California – California Loves You

 California – California Loves You

California – California Loves You – Album Review

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right.  If there’s one place on earth that needs MORE songs written about it, it’s clearly California.  Has it ever even been done before (this week?)?  It has?  Oh!  Many and multiple times, each and every year you say?  Since the beginning of time even?  Well.  I should probably just rewrite this entire intro then, shouldn’t I?  At least this Les Fradkin-based project had the stones to name the whole BAND California…THAT has never been done before, and we know that’s the truth, because if it had, that’s when the suits & ties start getting involved and the lawsuits come into play.  In fact, you might even know this band from its previous releases as California ™.

Anyhow!  If you don’t remember the band, which is admittedly making its first appearance on our pages here, then perhaps you’ll remember its lead dude, Les Fradkin, from the review I wrote on his solo tune “Under The Covers” back at the end of 2021.  I dig a lot of what I’m hearing on California Loves You, I’ll let ya in on that secret up front here.  It’s a little bit scattered with its results in terms of production and volume and all that technical stuff perhaps, but the ideas you’ll find are stellar & it’s got a great selection of songs that would have a chance of fitting on all kinds of playlists out there.  With an old man that once played in the Canadian band Doug And The Slugs, and currently plays in another Canadian band of legends known as Prism, believe me when I tell ya, this record actually slides in somewhere really neat right between those two types of sounds I’m so familiar with.  Probably a lot more towards the Doug-side of things as California Loves You starts up with “Singalong With California,” and of course there are a whole bunch more names that would make for more apt comparisons, like The Coasters for instance.  It’s a fun first tune though, and I dig the commitment in it performance-wise, straight from the start.  Vocalizations aren’t always the easiest way of getting things moving, but in the case of “Singalong With California, the melodic hooks immediately establish the welcoming vibe and fun in the atmosphere right away.  Plus, I’ve heard that plenty of folks out there tend to dig singing along with the music they love!  If that’s indeed the case & that applies to YOU, then chances are you’ll enjoy this record from the start.

“Through The Looking Glass” offers a much more Tom Petty-esque style of jangling Rock as it begins, and feels significantly epic from the moment it kicks into gear.  You know how some tunes just tend to feel outright refreshing, bold, and empowering when you listen to’em?  “Through The Looking Glass” has that same kind of spirited vibe to it that sounds like audible triumph.  That big booming drum, the main riffs all sparkling & shining away, the undeniable hooks of the chorus AND in the verses…”Through The Looking Glass” is the kind of cut you’d almost expect to find more as the finale of a set than so close to the start of a record, but that should tell ya about the quality of the lineup of tunes you’ll find on California Loves You.  It’s an effective track if you ask me…I don’t think there’d be too many folks out there that would dare to complain about a song like this one, and I ain’t gonna be the guy to test the waters on that.  It’s a stellar example of some of California’s best execution and thorough songwriting; “Through The Looking Glass” is as complete as a song can be, and delivers single-worthy sound, 100%.

I dig the harmonies on “Take A Chance” as much as I like the sentiment it has as well.  It’s a love-song for the dreamers out there, and ultimately, it’s actually got a ton of great advice at the core of its message.  There’s really only one way to be with the person you wanna be with, and that means at some point, you’ve gotta throw yourself into the situation, for better or worse, and find out where things stand.  You’ve gotta “Take A Chance” to find out what could be, and if you don’t, you might be relegated to a lifetime of ‘what ifs’ and wondering about what might have been…and trust me dear readers, dear friends – you don’t want that to be the place you end up.  It’s much better to follow California’s lead here, “Take A Chance” and let the chips fall where they may.  At the very least, you’ve given it a shot, and you won’t have to wonder about the possibilities of what could have been if it doesn’t work out.  In the best case scenario, everything works out just how you want it to – and that’s probably pretty sweet, right?  Love the upbeat vibe in this tune, great hooks too…it’s all a stellar pairing for a message like this.

Les has got a whole lot of love in his heart…to the point where I don’t think anyone could possibly miss it.  Not a bad way to live your life if you ask me…it strikes me as the kind of character we should all strive to have.  “Arrow Thru Your Heart” is essentially right where I’m at…I’m quite likely a LOT more into this track than most would assume I’d be if you saw what was typically on my playlists.  Keep in mind, I’m still the same guy that swears up & down that “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” by Starship would be in my top-ten of all time too.  I know it doesn’t necessarily jive with the same guy that points out he’s been ‘born Grunge’ on these pages here, but that’s always been the true and remains the truth even now.  “Arrow Thru Your Heart” is a masterfully well-crafted piece of Pop/Rock.  It’s a perfect example of how incredible music doesn’t need to be in-your-face, doesn’t need to be offensive, edgy, or bombastic – it can succeed through authentic sincerity, the purity of humble melody, and sweet sentiment, straight up.  Personally, I find “Arrow Thru Your Heart” irresistible by every sense of the definition – I love this song, and if it has some kind of defect, I’m not hearing it…as far as I can tell, it’s flawless like an audible gem.

“Come To Me” however…might not quite get that same level of praise.  Again, I don’t think there are too many ideas on this record, if any, that I don’t feel work out…and at the core of it all, that’s equally true of a song like “Come To Me” too without a doubt.  Is it a bit dustier in its sound compared to the way the production on the first four songs in this set come out?  Absolutely.  Does that stop me from enjoying it?  Not really, no.  I ain’t gonna lie to ya, it’s always crucial to not let the level of volume slip too far from track to track in either direction, or it can be difficult to listen to an album from start to finish…but I don’t think we’ve quite reached such a detrimental level here on “Come To Me.”  Les and his band are clearly gifted when it comes right down to it…they understand the art of the hook, they know how to execute, and they really put their heart into these tunes.  I’m a firm believer that we all have different levels of access to equipment, different amount of time we can spend in the studio and whatnot…and ultimately, that creates a whole lot of varied results in the end product of just about everything I listen to day after day.  So for me, music is so much more about the ideas and the passion you find behind them, and I feel like California has no problem at all checking those boxes with ease.  It’s fair to say that “Come To Me” sounds much more like it’s still in its demo phase in comparison to the rest of the set as we’ve heard it so far, but the hooks are undeniably addictive, and it’s a truly great tune – with a little bit of polish and shiny tools of production, this becomes a hit song in no time at all I tell ya.

“Willin” is probably a bit more of a tough call than any of the rest of the set on California Loves You so far.  It’s got pieces that work brilliantly, no doubt about that…some of the ways that Les shifts the melody in his vocals are straight up magical if you ask me…like whenever he sings “when I’m willin’” in the hooks, it’s a stunning and memorable highlight.  Sentiment & theme wise…once again, I think he’s on-point, especially when you consider the kind of tunes you’ve heard so far already – Les is clearly a lover, not a fighter, you feel me?  So it’s another natural fit in that regard…the man knows the kind of songs he wants to write, and he does a great job of transmitting his sincerity to us through his songs.  The reality is that “Willin” is less universal than the rest of the record to this point, continues to have a bit of that same dustier production that hinders the sparkle a song like this should probably have, and is written with a deeper theme than some of the rest by comparison as well…all of which presents a few additional challenges & barriers between California and the average everyday listener out there.  Doesn’t make it a bad tune by any stretch of the imagination, but one that has further potential than what we currently experience on this recording of it is all.  If they’re “Willin” to add a bit more sparkle & shine to this one and give it another shot, maybe there’s more to be found than what we hear now.  My gut tells me this is one of those artist-favorite tunes that doesn’t quite end up having the same effect on listeners on the other side of the speakers as it does for the people that created it, know what I mean?

It happens.  Call it the Murphy’s Law of makin’ music.  Sometimes the closer a tune is to our hearts, the further it gets away from us, and usually, as the creators, no matter what our favorite tune might be, it’s not usually the same one the people latch onto.  All-in-all, I still think the ideas of a track like “Willin” are there and reveal the consistency of the quality you find in California’s tunes in the songwriting.  Maybe it’s not gonna be the single for California Loves You, but the reality is, not every track gets to play that role on any given album we listen to by any artist or band.  To me, it’s still intact in regards to its performance, ideas and tone…it was “Ivy, Ivy” that I felt like things were slipping away on a couple of those elements.  Ideas-wise, I still like it…I suppose you could say I have no problem at all supporting the themes and the kinds of songs that California chooses to write – I like love songs when I know they’re sincere and can HEAR that in the music, which is definitely the case here.  I think there’s a couple things that work against “Ivy, Ivy” on a melodic level…it sounds like it’s a bit of a stretch in that regard, and I’m not quite sure the hooks are gonna grab the people as much as intended.  Drums-wise…there are a couple spots where things seem to be over-rambunctious for what this moment is calling out for, whereas a more simple & straight-ahead part might have paid off more in the long run.  Lyrically, I think there are a few moments where it sounds like California has got something in there that works in terms of the rhyme-scheme, but not quite something you feel like would be saying what really needs to be said – make sense?  Lines like “let’s leave my past in blinding snow” for example…there might be some kind of personal relevance in a lyric like that, but in context of the rest of the song it seems like it’s an odd fit.  All that being said, I feel the importance of a track like “Ivy, Ivy” and the desire to get it right…and at the heart of it all, I sympathize with that – I want California to get it right too, but I’m not sure it’s there yet.

It’s a more difficult set of three when it comes to the accessibility factor…I had my moments here & there with “Island” as well.  It’s alright!  I don’t know that I’m gonna rant and rave about it, I don’t know that I’m gonna come rushing back to it…it’s simply an alright tune.  Pleasant.  Quaint.  Inoffensive.  Nice.  All of which, by nature, don’t typically end up being the qualities that send us to the repeat button as much as any of us would probably like these kind of attributes to.  Positive stuff to a degree for sure, but just not the kind of aspects in music that tend to get us all that excited as listeners.  I was never 100% sold on the tone in the very first line of the chorus hook either, though I’ll definitely admit the call & response method of the songwriting works wonders further down in the melody when Les sings “we must believe it can be so” – I love that part.  It’s possible that this song could potentially grow on me, I wouldn’t rule that out…I think I’ve only had this record for about a week, so it could happen.  The more I spun through California Loves You, the more I felt this track was more memorable than it seems like it is.

“Christmas Vacation” reminds you that we’ve been mired in the dust for a while production-wise as it explodes through your speakers by comparison to the last several tunes in a row.  This would be one of those examples of where it’s important to keep an eye on the dial though…we’ve just turned up the volume to make sure the middle of this set was on par with the way the record started, and if we’re not keeping an eye on the set-list, “Christmas Vacation” will come through beaming and booming louder than you’d expect it to.  Good rhythm, sunny disposition…and…vacation or not, I’m still not a fan of Christmas tunes.  That ain’t on California though, that’s on me.  As far as holiday-based tunes go, this ain’t all that bad…I mean…it’s all about getting as far away from the dreary weather of the season and all the hustle & bustle of the madness…I can get behind that on a conceptual level.  As to the need to make it back by Christmas Day…well…that’s probably where we’d differ in our opinions and priorities.  I’d be much more apt to stay in the place Les has described in this song with its many amenities, tyvm.

As perplexing as it gets…”Perfect World” dials back the volume in the other direction once again.  Les!  California!  Your ears are workin’ the same as the rest of ours do…so we have to assume you’re aware of the issue, and that it’s in the realm of something that can be/should be fixed my friends.  If you’ve ever heard of ‘studio ears’ though, you know it’s a real thing that affects us when we’re in the thick of creating our tunes as artists.  Listening to a whole bunch of music that’s fresh off the line can make it extremely tough to be objective…it’s tough to know if that song was louder than this one, vice versa, or not at all if you’re up all night & day workin’ on that new record, and I get it, I’ve been there.  That being said, that’s where folks like myself come in to be that objective voice that says we’ve got a bit too much fluctuation goin’ on here California, and it’s time to reign it all in a bit.  Outside of that, I actually like this track quite a bit and felt like the band really executes on the hooks perfectly here.  Great vocals, solid idea, great harmonies…you have to wonder a little bit based on the album covers California has created whether or not these songs are intended more for an audience of one than the rest of us en masse, but it doesn’t mean we can’t find our way in to enjoy’em too.  Love songs are fairly universal even in most circumstances…I like the way this one comes out with such a sweet perspective and sound in tandem.

“Everything Is Gonna Be Alright” is as comforting as it is entertaining…and ya gotta dig that.  I’m inclined to believe California…at the very least, there’s always hope, right?  It’s definitely on the optimistic side of sound, that much I can confirm.  It’s even got a somewhat like…Monkees-meets-Chilliwack-meets-R.E.M. type of vibe to it…and I dig that.  I look at a song like this…with all the doom and gloom of the planet seeming like it’s closing in on us all day after day, it’s positivity-infused tracks like this that are actually the rebellious ones right now in this society we share.  So bring on the revolution of spirited sound I say!  “Everything Is Gonna Be Alright” is essentially the message the world needs right now, and the sentiment we should all get behind.  It feels like we’ve all been battling for so freakin’ long that, to just set all those differences we have aside for a while, embrace our similarities, and turn up a track that’s designed to bring us all a little bit closer together like this one is…might not be a bad strategy for the road ahead.  Memorable hooks for sure, and perhaps an even more memorable energy rooted in the intentions of a song like this…”Everything Is Gonna Be Alright” was a genuine winner in this set-list.

Finishing off the album with a humble, stripped down tune called “We Still Love You” – the gentle sway and melody of this song is sure to please listeners with its dreamy perspective and down-to-earth sound.  There are moments where you can hear the demands on the melody are intense…and I’m not even here to argue that Les reaches the heights of all that’s required…but what I can tell ya is, each time he gets close enough to charm you in that Neil Young type of way.  It might not be the most pinpoint accurate melody you hear from the microphone, but it’s real…and perfectly imperfect in that special way that makes all the difference to us as we listen.  It works for me…and I’m confident it’ll work for you too.  California has shown a lot of heart throughout this whole lineup of songs, and even in what’s certainly one of its most delicate moments in the last track, that sweetness is as bold as ever.  “We Still Love You” is a powerfully moving final cut for as gentle as it is…definitely one of the record’s most mesmerizing moments without a doubt, and a great highlight to have finished this off on – we love you too California.

Find more music by California at Bandcamp:  https://californiatm-featlesfradkin.bandcamp.com/

Find out what we do & how we do it at sleepingbagstudios, and be the next up on our pages by clicking here!

Jer@SBS

http://sleepingbagstudios.ca

"I’m passionate about what I do, and just as passionate about what YOU do. Together, we can get your music into the hands of the people that should have it. Let’s create something incredible."

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