Recorded on the road, Tourist is an engaging, lush and poignant set of songs.
Unlike most folk who were locked down at home during the pandemic, Tulsa musician John Calvin Abney, his San Francisco lease having expired, hit the road. Sojourns in California, Nevada, Oklahoma and Texas found him shacking up in friends’ spare bedrooms (and even garages), accompanied by his portable studio. This peripatetic existence has seeped into the songs he recorded on the way while the landscapes, writers such as Steinbeck and Hemingway, and the ever present pandemic reminder of our mortality helped shape them.
The sheer gorgeousness of the songs belies the DIY approach to the recording process. Abney recorded himself playing all manner of guitars, keyboards, synthesizers and banjo while his erstwhile long time partner in music, John Moreland added percussion, bass, sequencing and harmony vocals remotely. The vocals are quite glorious with Abney’s voice wispy yet inspired, recalling the hushed tones of Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous, while the harmonies remind one of The Beach Boys’ circa their album ‘Holland’.
The album opens with the lush wanderlust of ‘Full Moon Friend’ with Abney and Moreland summoning up an early 70s LA sound, almost like the Eagles backed by Steely Dan. ‘Call Me Achilles’ is much dustier with its echoes of fellow Tulsonian, J. J. Cale, although a swirling mellotron and slight psychedelic vocal effects add a weird discombobulation to that Tulsa groove. ‘Holy Golden West’, written as California was experiencing fearsome forest fires, finds Abney pondering on the precariousness of it all with the lyrics quite apocalyptic at times as he strives to find some kind of paradise at the end of the road.
Abney excels on the exceedingly poignant ‘Watch Me Go (Back In Time)’, a song which opens with guitar and banjo and then slowly blossoms into a fully fleshed kaleidoscopic mix of country and psychedelia. ‘By Your Leave’ is a fine crepuscular reverie as the singer finds solace for a night and ‘Leave Me At The Shoreline’ is almost yacht rock in its mellow delivery but ‘Sleepwalkers’ is perhaps the pinnacle here as Abney burrows into a rich pop seam which has also been mined by the likes of the High Lamas, a thought reinforced by the majestic chimes of the closing song, ‘Good Luck And High Tide’.
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