Harmondale, "Spirit of 73" review by: W. Dire Wolff
Before listening to Harmondale's debut album, "Spirit of 73", I was already familiar with the general sound of the music. I had seen some of their live performances on YouTube. I was also familiar with Laura Harmondale's pilgrimage to Joshua Tree, California; and how she had been flirting with the local music scene and desert denizens. In some on-line circles, Laura was busy putting "The Joshua Tree Inn" and "Pioneertown", back on the map of the collective conscious. Her music and life has laid a trail of bread crumbs that leads to the legend of Gram Parsons and the infamous Room Number 8. With all of these built up ideals, I didn't really think I would find the CD, "Spirit of 73", to rise so eloquently, as it does, to meet my expectations.
From the first steel guitar introduction, Gar Robertson works with Harmondale to create what I instantly identified as the "Joshua Tree Sound". Although up to hearing this album, I didn't really realize there was a "Joshua Tree Sound". The fresh sounding Country, Folk, Rock music is well written and touches the heart. The success of the CD is really the good songwriting, guitar playing, and singing of Laura Harmodale. This is presented with the musical production and excellent guitar work of Gar Robertson. They are joined by Laura's band mates in Harmondale, and a small cast of talented guest musicians. Together they create a simple music that paints the stories of life in a little desert town.
Harmondale's music reflects the sound of all the regular icons from Patsy Cline to Emmy Lou Harris to the more recent maidens of Popular music, and encapsulates their influence into her own unique style. While her accents reflect many of the usual influences, she does not imitate or even emulate them. Instead she seems more a counterpoint to Gram Parsons and his band mates in "The Flying Burrito Brothers". Creating the impressions that she lives in the trailer, down the lane, from where Gram lives in Joshua Tree. And although the spirit of Gram Parsons may dwell in Joshua Tree, in life he only stayed at the Inn, and never actually lived there. Where Liz Phair designed "Exile in Guyville", as a blow by blow response to the Rolling Stones album, "Exile on Main Street", "Spirit of 73" may be an understated nod toward The Flying Burrito Brothers' album "The Gilded Palace of Sin". But these comparisons only serve to trivialize and distract from the unique style of sound and songwriting, which has evolved from these well studied influences.
The album starts off with the deep country sound of the song "Crowded Highway", where we are introduced to Laura's sweet singing voice and Gar's steel guitar. This is followed by the light hearted vocal introduction to the wistful longing of the "Coyote Song". Soon we're taken on the back porch to pass the jug, and listen to the country revival number, "Holy Water". The song, "Live Wire" starts off sounding like a folk standard, only to evolve into a sweet country/rock gem, with a FM sound circa 1973. Not all the album remains in Country and Folk genres, at times songs such as "Surfer Girl" have a more modern almost Emo sound. The album finally breaks down into a honky tonk romp, as the final numbers reflect a raucous night in Pioneertown at "Pappy and Harriet's" Saloon. Finally, the album ends with the promise of a little more "Trouble Down the Line".
Harmondale's debut album, "Spirit of 73", brings a breath of fresh air from the Joshua Tree desert. Let's hope, that this little album is the beginning of a long career, for Laura and the Harmondale gang.