Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gold Motel

In the waning days of a chilly fall, an ideal diversion is a satisfying blend of sunny California pop and Midwestern heartland rock. Such is the mix offered by Gold Motel, the Chicago-via-L.A. quintet on their full-length debut Summer House.

Fronted by The Hush Sound co-lead vocalist and pianist Greta Morgan while the former outfit is on indefinite hiatus, the 10-track album – released this past June – is an upbeat blend of left coast-flavored pop and more charging Americana-inspired rock. Morgan's vocals trend towards the better side of Sheryl Crow, with a bit of added Metrics' Emily Haines grit. Although the group initially formed as a vessel for Morgan's creativity during The Hush Sound's hiatus, the larger group exists as far more than a backing band.

The twin guitar work of Dan Duszynski and Eric Hehr sets a brisk pace on opener, "We're On the Run," with its lighthearted Golden State riffs in the intro and verses before more structured heartland progressions fuel the chorus parts. It's a solid foundation for Morgan's vocals, which are complimentary breezy and yet hearty – matching the twin guitar dynamics presented by Duszynski and Hehr. There are dashes of keyboard-produced elements (obviously supplied by Morgan) including background vibes and the toy piano at the bridge. The same is true on its follow-up, the less cohesive "Perfect (In My Mind)," which features more wavy organ-style supplements.

In the houseparty groove of "Safe in L.A.," the California influence is fittingly more apparent. The rhythm section of Matt Minx and Adam Coldhouse – both of the former Chicago outfit This Is Me Smiling, along with Duszynski – drive the number's fantastic beat. It's 50's rockabilly-meets-70's R&B mood nonetheless feels fresh and vital, perhaps enlivened by Morgan's vocals and well-crafted lyrics like "California's waiting while your face is fading clear out of sight." Meanwhile, "Stealing the Moonlight" could have been a deep cut of Fleetwood Mac's misunderstood Tusk, with Morgan and Duszynski reflecting just a bit of Buckingham/Nicks, and the instrumental underpinnings of the verses recalling the Mick Fleetwood/John McVie attack.

After the starlight ballad "Fireworks After Moonlight," the Josh Homme-style lead-in of "Don't Send the Searchlights" delivers the record's best effort. The just-under 3:00 product has enough weight from Minx and Coldhouse to signify its importance, and Morgan spins-out her most memorable performance here. Her bouncy piano is understated in the background, allowing her bandmates to drive another solid groove. When combined with the fun of "Safe in L.A.," the five-piece cements a distinctive sound that speaks to a more permanent arrangement of the group should Morgan's former mates consider reuniting.

Morgan includes a bit more piano later on, in the lighthearted "Make Me Stay" – which features a neat George Harrison-style riff from either Duszynski or Hehr – the punchy "The Cruel One," and vibes-based ballad "Who Will I Be Tonight?" The group returns to the California sound on the record's closer and album title, with surfing drums and clean riffs. It's a suitable resolution of where the effort began, a trip from the sunshine coast through the heartland and back again.

Come for: "Safe in L.A."
Stay for: "Don't Send the Searchlights"
You'll be surprised by: "Stealing the Moonlight"

P.S.: March reviewees (and NMT's 2010 Album of the Year winner) fun. will headline at Washington's 9:30 Club this Thursday. You won't be disappointed.

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