Friday, May 08, 2020


West-Bridges 1969
For a country rock band from Crockett, CA (East Bay Area), Bridges seems to be an apt title album. The straightforward album cover art depicting those landmark bridges spanning the Carquinez Strait provide a further sense of orientation. On sonic levels, the music itself literally crosses and connects several musical styles with a somewhat natural ease. Bridges is their 1969 follow-up album to their competent and congenial 1968 eponymous debut that has been somewhat unfairly derided over the years for its over-reliance on cover songs.  Both of their albums were recorded and produced in Nashville by the legendary Bob Johnston (whose production credits include industry giants like Dylan, Johnny Cash, Simon & Garfunkel and Marty Robbins). Johnston builds keenly and clearly upon the band's already established strong musical foundation. Overall, Bridges is not truly rock nor country, but leans towards a folksy twangy pop direction with subtle jazz undercurrents and is definitely stronger for it. While their sound could have benefited from some dusty steel guitar sparks, at least the gloppy Hearts & Flowers strings were not applied.  Some of these rustic and jazzy inclinations can be attributed to both the source material and the musicians involved. If there seems to be a thoughtful John Stewart (of the Kingston Trio) feel to the album, it is not coincidental, as John Stewart contributed two songs (“July, You're A Woman,” “Looking Back Johanna”) and the band also featured John’s brother and multi-instrumentalist Mike Stewart (formerly of the We Five). 

West 1968
The Byrds-ian “Peaceful Times” exemplifies the group's economical approach while showcasing their warm, yet striking guitar tones intertwined with harmonic vocals that build to the sky. This song stalled out as a single in 1969 as it probably seemed too countervailing during the burn out of the decade. It’s the later half of the album where West actually finds their firmest footing and true direction. “General Mojo's Well Laid Plan” is a well-executed jazzy country-ish instrumental that was contributed by jazz bass stalwart Steve Swallow (of the Gary Burton Quartet). Surprisingly, another fine instrumental “Funeral on the Beach” subsequently follows. This group composition places their proficiency and telepathy on the forefront. The hushed “Sad About the Times” is a low-key gem that echoes the Byrds’ “Everybody's Been Burned" in theme, but without the acidic burnishing. This soft pop song seems to encapsulate the unraveling present, while lamenting the end of the idealistic era and expressing reservations about the impending ‘70s. (“Sad About the Times” would also go on to later inspire the title of a 2019 compilation from Mexican Summer.) While generally too understated to move mountains or units for Epic Records, the seemingly good-natured and earnest group left a transitional album filled with bittersweet songs that continue to glow with the promise of the West

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