By Eleni P. Austin

I don’t know about you, but when someone starts waxing rhapsodic about a new movie, book or album, my innate Bitch Goddess cynicism kicks in. Can’t help it, I popped out of the womb with a sharply honed sense of skepticism. (Well, I didn’t exactly “pop” out, but that’s a story for a very different column). So, imagine my shock and sincere delight when I watched the recent Amazon Prime series Daisy Jones & The Six and actually enjoyed it.

Based on the 2019 novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid, the episodes use documentary (Behind The Music-style) interviews with band members as a framing device, telling the story of a (fictitious) ‘70s band, that fun-house mirrors the interpersonal dynamics of Fleetwood Mac. The casting of the two (flawed but fascinating) lead characters, Riley Keough (Daisy) and Sam Claflin (Billy), made the series infinitely watchable, the pair evinced genuine musical talent and a combustible chemistry. But what made it thoroughly compelling was the pitch-perfect original music. Even Stevie Nicks professed her love for the show on social media, noting it wasn’t her precise experience, but it still resonated for her.

The series’ original songs were provided by a cadre of L.A. talented musicians like Z Berg, Cass McCombs, Marcus Mumford, Taylor Goldsmith, Matt Sweeney, Belle Brigade siblings Ethan and Barbara Grushka and Chris Weisman. Blake Mills wrote, or co-wrote the lion’s share of the songs and served as producer. While these artists aren’t really household names (unless you’re completely tied into Los Angeles’ labyrinthine music scene), they should be, especially Blake. The native Angelino began making music professionally at the turn of the 21st century with Malibu High classmate Taylor Goldsmith. The pair formed the band Simon Dawes. Following an EP and long-player, they broke up. Truncating the name, Taylor recruited his younger brother and the band became Dawes. Blake initially got work as a touring musician, heading out on the road critically acclaimed artists like Jenny Lewis, Julian Casablancas and Lucinda Williams.


That led to session work with everyone from The Avett Brothers, Norah Jones, Dixie Chicks, Dangermouse, Randy Newman, Fiona Apple, Benmont Tench, The Killers and Rufus Wainwright. His solo debut, Record Collection, appeared in 2010, the follow-up, Hi-Ho arrived four years later. Soon enough he had become a sought-after producer, earning his first Grammy nomination for Alabama Shakes’ Sound & Color.

For the last decade, he has juggled production gigs with Dawes, John Legend, Laura Marling, My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James, and Perfume Genius, just to name a few. In between, he quietly released a series of intriguing albums beginning the mostly instrumental EP, Look, in 2018. Two years later, he recorded Mutable Set. Collaborating with legendary bassist Pino Palladino, the pair created the 2021 album, Notes With Attachments. The following year, he produced and co-wrote Marcus Mumford’s solo effort, Self-Titled. This past summer he appeared with Joni Mitchell at her first ticketed concert performance in more than two decades, at the Gorge Amphitheatre. Playing Joni’s guitar, he accompanied her on “Ameilia.” A few weeks later, his newest solo effort, Jelly Road was released.

But back to the Daisy Jones soundtrack. The 11-song set kicks into gear with the anthemic title track. Stinging, shang-a-lang guitars collide with thrumming bass, mercurial keys, stuttery handclaps and an urgent backbeat. Daisy and Billy’s vocals dovetail as they offer differing perspectives: “Where did you turn when you needed tenderness, when you reached out for my touch and I couldn’t give you much, of all the time we lost, while I was running from your light, to the shadows of west, strung out on the lies, with my tongue out of my mind, in a Ford Econoline.” Just past the bridge, time signatures shift, the instrumentation becomes positively kaleidoscopic as the pair repeat “I kinda thought that night was gonna last forever” like a mantra. Hard-charging rhythm riffs scuttle around cyclonic lead guitar and flirty organ notes as the melody stops on a dime.

It doesn’t give away much of Daisy’s plot to reveal that bandmates, Billy and Daisy fight an undeniable attraction to each other across 10 episodes. So, there are a couple of tracks devoted to the she said/he said dynamic. Daisy is up first with the contemplative and confessional cri de Coeur, “Two Against Three.” A bare-bones arrangement consists of ringing acoustic guitars and thready, Big Pink-flavored keys. Lyrics take emotional inventory, coming up short: “Boys were invincible lovers just begging to be destroyed, they’re up in the morning, regretfully sobbing and gone, I’m bathed and going back to bed, this was never any cause for alarm.” Anonymous encounters act as a panacea in the absence of real connection. The honeyed chorus set the terms: “It seems you have a choice to make, the shell is white and yours to break, either way, it’s just as well, all I need’s a promise I can keep myself.”

The gossamer grace of “Two…” is supplanted on “More Fun To Miss” by dissonant, downstroke rhythm riffs, barbed and tarnished lead licks, drowsy bass lines and a shambolic kick. Daisy’s hopeful mien is gone, in its place is a jaded addict, strung-out on love. Lyrics offer a master class in self-flagellation: “You’re just a wild guess in a see-through dress, I don’t wanna hear you squealing up my drive, it took guts to think that I could buy that wink, but that thing you do just ain’t right.” Guitars scrap and strut on the break as her wordless vocalese usher the song to a close.

Billy has his say on “Please,” which opens with sludgy guitar, whooshy keys, shuddery bass and a metronomic beat all looped in reverse. Lyrics like “Please, I’m down on my knees I have a family, Please, it’s an awful disease and it’s getting me, merge with the terrible urge every night” supplicate to a higher power, he yearns for delivery from temptation. Despite the celestial harmonies, this song is awash in moody malevolence.

Listening to the best tracks here feels like flipping through the FM radio dial, circa 1977. Each song deftly summons real life antecedents like Peter Frampton, Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Linda Rondstadt, Steely Dan and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Take “Let Me Down Easy,” which tethers rippling, Lindsey Buckingham-esque guitar riffs, percolating keys and roiling bass to a galloping gait. Daisy and Billy trade verses, navigating the rocky shoals of forbidden attraction: “I could see us waving in the distance, like a mirage on the sand, that could be us trading secrets no one else could understand/I got you under my skin now, why do you make it so hard, don’t leave me broken and free, won’t you tell me where you are?” The magnificently hooky chorus is bookended by slashing power chords that wrap around an insistent beat. This is one of those songs you could listen to a million times and never get tired of.

Then there’s “You were Gone,” a Countrified charmer powered by jangly guitars, walking bass lines, treacly tack piano, burnished Wurlitzer and rock-ribbed beat. The sweetness of the melody and arrangement belies the lyrics’ caustic reapproach: “Can’t you tell by my face there are things I try to erase? Memories of nothing, got my money’s worth I paid, I woke up and you sat me down, said ‘the future’s over now’ and memories are nothing and there’s no one left to see….. where were you, oh when I needed you, you were gone, when I needed you, you were gone.”

Meanwhile, “Look At Us Now (Honeycomb)” unfurls like unfinished conversation, all acoustic arpeggios and crushed velvet keys. But rather quickly, the full band kicks in, adding slithery guitars, plush keys, tensile bass and a pummeling beat. The song speed-shifts through a surfeit of emotions, leaping headlong down a rabbit-hole of regret and recrimination: “We unraveled a long time ago, we lost and we couldn’t let it go, I wish it was easy, but it isn’t so…oh, we could make a good thing bad.” On the break, spiraling guitars and prickly organ notes lock into a churlish pas de deux. The arrangement revs and retreats, adding a final sparkly guitar refrain before whipping into a final spiky dervish before conceding “oh, we could make a good thing bad.”

Finally, “Regret Me” simply crackles with authority. Brawny guitars spark and pinwheel, matched by willowy keys, loose-limbed bass and a knockabout beat. Once again, the frisson of attraction is front and center, but this time, to paraphrase The Pretenders, lust has turned to anger: “You regret me and I regret you, you couldn’t handle your liquor and you can’t seem to handle the truth.” But the lyrical vitriol is tempered by a soupcon of humor: “Go ahead and regret me, but I’m beating you to it, Dude.” Shards of squally, scabrous guitars scratch and snarl on the break, mirroring the discordant display wounded egos. Thankfully, there’s a sweet acoustic respite before the final cataclysmic crunch.

Other interesting tracks include “Kill You To Try” and “The River.” The stripped-down sangfroid of the former is anchored by a tribal tattoo, fuzz-crusted guitars and flinty bass lines. This clear-eyed couplet tries to manage expectations: “Could words ever be unspoken, could the truth ever un-tell the lies, can a promise ever be unbroken, oh, would it kill you to try?” As the arrangement powers down to just searching organ notes, a sinewy guitar solo inserts itself, augmented by some ticklish glockenspiel.

If it were possible for Tom Petty’s “What Are You Doin’ In My Life” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman” to conceive a musical love child, it might sound like the latter. Strummy acoustic chords brush up against swaggering electric riff-age, thrumming bass, iridescent keys and a rollicking beat. The infectious chorus lays it all on the line: “If I follow you to the river send my blues out to the sea, do you stay with me forever do you chase me in my dreams, if I throw it all in the river and let the rhythm take the lead, will it stay with you and never let you leave on me?” Distorto guitars ricochet through the break as the souped-up rhythm guitars and even more glockenspiel navigate the arrangement’s hairpin turns.

The album closes on a quiescent note with “No Words.” Cascading harmonium and tack piano wrap around phased and dusted guitars, wily bass and a rattle-trap beat. After all the romantic sturm und drang, these two are suddenly tongue-tied: “Oh, I just don’t know the words, babe, for what I’m trying to say, if all I could do is hope that you don’t take it the wrong way, if all I can do is say ‘don’t take it the wrong way, okay?’” Lush harmonies are freighted with heartache and regret. It’s an ethereal coda to a Rock & Roll rollercoaster ride.

There’s something kind of magical about this record. Blake and his collaborators have managed to evoke a bygone musical era without sounding contrived or derivative. Classic and timeless, Daisy Jones & The Six is one of the best albums of 2023.