By Eleni P. Austin

Brent Rademaker has been a fixture of the L.A. music scene for more than a quarter of a century. Just ahead of artists like Dawes and Jonathan Wilson, he drafted off the legacy of seminal singer-songwriters like Gram Parsons, Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne, offering his twist on the classic Laurel Canyon sound, by salting the mix with hints of Psychedelia and Garage Rock. The Florida native made his bones in bands like A New Personality, Shadowland and Further, before achieving critical acclaim and commercial success fronting Beachwood Sparks, The Tyde and most recently, GospelbeacH. In between myriad music commitments, he started his own label, Curation Records, which has released stellar albums from Those Pretty Wrongs, The Evening Sons, Pacific Range and Uni Boys. Both GospelbeacH and Beachwood Sparks are releasing new records this year. First up is GospelbeacH’s fourth long-player, Wiggle Your Fingers.

The record kicks into gear with the irresistible ache of “Nothin’ But A Fool.” If it were possible for America, Seals & Crofts and the Flying Burrito Brothers to have a musical love child, it might sound like this song. Willowy pedal steel, thrumming bass, piquant guitar and a ticklish beat wrap around Brent’s hangdog tenor. Melancholy lyrics chronicle some post-break up malaise: “I’m walking in my sleep, in the midday sun, I’m lyin’ through my teeth when I say I’m havin’ fun, listen to me laugh, listen to me laugh/When I wake up I wanna waste my time, then I go to sleep and I change my mind, then I waste my time and I change my mind again.” But his moody mien is nearly camouflaged by a buoyant arrangement that ascends on the break. Noodling electric piano notes sidle around high lonesome pedal steel and static-y, AOR guitars.

GospelbeacH’s sound is definitely inspired by their environment. From the streets of Hollywood, to the Sunset Strip, top down cruising up the PCH, snaking through the verdant canyons that connect to the shitkicker verisimilitude of The Palomino. On “I’ll Close My Eyes,” “Hang Thyme” and “York Blvd.,” they blur the lines between Country Rock and Psychedelia. “I’ll Close My Eyes” is a cracked Country Waltz, Honky-Tonk piano, wayfarer guitars, searing pedal steel and barbed bass lines are shackled to a shuffling ¾ beat. Something of a Cowpoke’s lament, lyrics avoid romantic complications opting for trouble-free nostalgia: “They say that it’s hard to go changing your ways, after a lifetime of lies, but how am I gonna face you when I see you again, it’s easy, I’ll just close my eyes, I’ll close my eyes and picture a sunset, I’ll close my eyes and think of a dream, I’ll hold on to a feeling that only a memory can bring.” on the break, kaleidoscopic guitars shimmy across rippling piano chords, accenting the restless ennui.


“Hang Thyme” opens tentatively as tinkling keys and meandering guitar fold into a tumultuous backbeat. Jangly, Byrdsy guitars feel completely apropos since the song’s title offers a winking homage to “Wild Moutain Thyme,” a track off the Folk-Rockers’ mind-blowing Fifth Dimension LP. But that’s where the similarities begin and end. Doom and gloom lyrics request a little “hang thyme,” to cope with these dystopian days: “Have you seen the state of the world these days, it just turns me away, I don’t know who to trust, even true love is fucked, it just turns me away.” Bendy guitars, rangy pedal steel and plinky piano zigzag through the break just ahead of the propulsive beat. Lyrics reverse course at the close, effectively ditching the downer vibe for this mixed-message epiphany: “Don’t you feel your life is cursed, you gotta trust the universe.”

The Cosmic American sound that Gram Parsons’ originated back in the ‘60s is in full flower on “York Blvd.” Peeling pedal steel notes collide with strummy guitars, agile bass and a tumbling beat. Jabberwocky lyrics offer a cryptic glance at one of L.A.’s most historic thoroughfare’s: “Chihuahuas, they’re everywhere tonight, Chihuahuas, just who’s walking who tonight, pretty girls, pretty eyes, smiling faces, they passed me by, boulevard’s got a lot of stuff to sell, hey buddy, that’s a pretty cool hat, I’ve got two as well.” Cascading piano, pedal steel and woozy keys intertwine on the break, mirroring the song’s infectious joie de vivre.

The best songs here echo the sensation of flipping around the AM radio dial, circa ’70-’77. Take “Losin’ Patience,” which sounds like the theme from the best Afterschool Special you’ve never seen. Spiraling guitars are matched by shivery keys, vroom-y bass and a kick-drum beat. Lyrics limn the lonesome sensation of starting over: “Running away from all that I once was and all the things I did to feel alive, I guess that’s the way it’s always meant to be.” Urgent piano notes brush up against flute-y, filigreed keys and sighing guitars as Brent admits “…I keep on praying there’s more to life that’s meant to be there’s more to you and more to me.”

“You’re The Only One (Frozen Burrito #2)” could easily sandwich between Smokey Robinson’s “Cruising” and the Eagles’ “Witchy Woman.” Fluid keys, shang-a-lang guitars and thumping bass lines lattice atop a thwoking beat. Love is in the air: “I held on to yesterday until you swept it all away, when you took my hand, the pain began to fade…Baby, I just love the way that everything fell into place like the last piece of the puzzle that was hidden all these years, like a rainy day in L.A., somehow you just appeared, and all I really need is you.” Plenty of “ooh-la-las” dot the margins of the melody, but the big surprise is the swoony pedal steel solo on the break.

There’s a Raspberries-esque rush to “The Dropouts Parts One And Two.” Crunchy power chords ride roughshod over swirly keys, sinewy bass and a whip-crack beat anchor Part One, as seamless harmonies wash over the brisk arrangement. Lyrics recall those halcyon days when everything seemed possible: “Cuttin’ class smokin’ by the back doors, cause college ain’t on the map, here comes the revolution, we don’t play pretend, there goes your reputation down the hall with your best friend/Yeah, we found a solution, we grew up just fine, the cigarettes by the back door turned into bread and wine, wasted time wasted youth, yeah man, ‘least we lived the truth, we found the revolution over and over again.” The action slows and shapeshifts for “Part 2.” Phased and celestial vocals are braced by crisp guitars, whirring keys and plaintive piano. “Me and my brother started a band, thought that we could sing, some of us died too young, some of us married a barstool, but the kids at the front of the class, they’re still livin’ in high school.”

The album closes with the one-two punch of “The End” and “It’s Too Late (Kellie’s Version).” The former juxtaposes stately piano, spiky guitars, churchy organ, whizzbang keys, tensile bass and a percolating beat, with cranky, confrontational lyrics. Rueful accusations like “Have I ever wrote a song you really liked, have I ever done a gawl-dog thing with my life…have you ever loved someone and had to leave them all behind, ” are tempered by less quarrelsome queries: “are you tired of answering these questions, would you rather be on a beach with your best friends?” By the finish, the pugnacious mood has been supplanted by a shaggy and shambolic sing-a-long.

The latter is a sparkly, mid-tempo groover that blends painterly piano, incandescent guitars, flinty bass and a tick-tock beat. Lyrics unspool a romantic post mortem that can’t sidestep the fact that despite some residual affection, “You and I still make each other laugh, but we still make each other cry,” it’s just too late: “I really hurt you didn’t I, I’m really sorry, I shoulda looked you in the eye, I’m really sorry that I lied and made you cry, now I’m the guy singing songs about you.” A stinging, sweet-sour guitar solo (courtesy my boyfriend, Luther Russell) dirties up the pretty, ending the album on a bittersweet note.

GospelbeacH has always had a fluid line-up. The current incarnation consists of Brent on bass, IV string bass, acoustic and electric guitars and vocals, Jonny Nieman on keys and electric guitar, Peter Williams played drums, Matthew Hill added more electric guitar, along with Jake DeJongh on pedal steel, as well as 6 and 12 string guitars. Special guests include Bob Glaub on bass, Bob “Derwood” Andrews played lap steel, Dutch Suoninen and Patrick Ralla added even more acoustic and electric guitars, Joe Harvey White was featured on pedal steel, plus Will Scott and Trevor Beld Jimenez were each behind the drum kit. Background vocals were provided by Alex Koford and Mara Connor.

Nearly half a century ago, Olivia Newton-John asked, in her most dulcet tones: “Have you never been mellow?” If only she could have given her beleaguered pal a copy of GospelbeacH’s Wiggle Your Fingers, she probably could have saved that angsty fellow a few years of therapy. This record is by turns sweet and melodious, shaggy, rambunctious and laid-back. An aural panacea for these truculent times.