CALICO THE BAND
Album Review: by Paul Zollo
American Songwriter Magazine
CALICO the band
Just when it seemed that the term ‘Americana’ was being hopelessly diluted and unfocused, along comes CALICO The Band to define the term for us with new vigor and focus. In the hands and spirit of these gifted ladies, all of whom have had thriving solo careers, Americana is reborn in the spirit of Laurel Canyon, the spirt of the great songwriters (Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Jackson Browne, etc.) who flourished there. It’s there in lyrics which speak with urgency of modern times, with music of great passion and beauty, cloaked in warm acoustics and close harmonies. Rancho California picks up that torch and lights up these lyrical songs with great purity and love. But it all starts with the voices. Kirsten Proffit, Manda Mosher and Aubrey Richmond are all wonderful singers who have found a vocal blend both timeless and nourishing, and a way with harmony arrangements that is ingenious. The songwriting throughout is exceptional. “Lone Ranger” takes the iconic name and brings it to a whole other realm, the essence of great songwriting. “Runaway Cowgirl” is rooted in these western slopes, but speaking of all of America and modern times with true passion. They also choose an unlikely and great Dylan cover, “You Ain’t Going Nowhere,” a hit for the Byrds, who like this band were all about brilliant songs conveyed in immaculate harmony. Even knowing all famous versions of this one, CALICO breathes new fire into it. Aubrey’s violin and mandolin sparkles throughout, while both Manda and Kirsten bring lovely guitar textures to every track. This is an album for the ages by a new super-group of great talent and beauty. To quote the late-great Steve Allen, who was a songwriter as well as a comic genius, this is the start of something big.
CALICO the band is a California band in the deepest, most natural sense of the term. Specifically, the moniker (all caps, please) is shorthand for California country—as if that weren’t vividly apparent from the first moments of Under Blue Skies, the group’s resonant, accomplished sophomore album, with its musical intricacy, lyrical eloquence and timeless immediacy. The thought-provoking, tightly harmonized songs of founder/leaders Manda Mosher and Kirsten Proffit exist in a continuum with the seminal form Gram Parsons famously dubbed Cosmic American Music.
The sound of Under Blue Skies is informed by the duo’s shared love of Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Eagles, the Everly Brothers, Fleetwood Mac and, of course, the Beatles. Their songwriting touchstones include Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, The Band and Tom Petty. Mosher and Proffit feel so connected to this classic music that they’re able to bring it into the present tense and make it their own.
The partners are California natives with back stories so perfectly complementary they could’ve been scripted, the screenwriter inevitably rendering their predestined intersection as “second-generation hippie meets showbiz kid.” Proffit’s parents were nomadic hippies who roamed from Santa Cruz to Majorca, Spain, and back again with their little girl in tow. Mosher’s family on her mother’s side has been in California since the wagon-train era, while her grandfather was writer and creator of classic sitcoms including Leave It to Beaver and The Munsters. One key ingredient the two sets of parents had in common was their record collections, which shaped the two youngsters’ sensibilities in a profound and lasting way.
“We dug in deeper on this record from a songwriting standpoint,” Manda continues. “Because we’ve spent so much time together, we feel more comfortable expressing vulnerability in the lyrics; there are definitely more love songs. There’s certainly meaning to Rancho California, but it’s more broad strokes; on Under Blue Skies, we were able to dig in and get more personal.”
Case in point: “405,” Proffit’s lone solely penned song on the new album, on which romance blossoms against a backdrop acutely familiar to L.A. residents. The chorus goes, ‘We’ve got life behind us, open skies above and the walls of the canyon on either side/In front of us now is a great divide, and there’s nothing between us but the 405.’”
In other songs, the luminous textures of blended voices over stringed instruments counterbalance heavy themes. “Fine Line” considers the delusional state that befall so many aspirants who come to L.A. in hopes of realizing their dreams. “Roll Away The Stone” considers the struggle of overcoming addiction from the point of view of someone who cares enough to share the burden with the strung-out individual. And “Cold Cold Love” is a murder ballad in modern dress about the dark consequences of obsessive love. The linchpin songs also include a pair that ponder separation: “Free Man,” a tonal change of pace on which co-writer Jason Charles Miller trades vocal lines with Kirsten and “The Leaving Kind,” on which Kirsten sounds uncannily like Linda Ronstadt fronting the Stone Poneys.
Kirsten and Manda had finished the record to their satisfaction when they came up with the entirely fitting idea of covering the Mamas & the Papas classic “California Dreamin’.” Just before Christmas 2016, they headed to Jim Scott’s PLYRZ Studio in Santa Clarita with their rhythm section of Ted Russell Kamp and drummer Matt Lucich, augmented by a crew of all-star players including Greg Leisz on pedal steel, Neal Casal on 12-string electric, Patrick Warren on keys and Kaitlin Wolfberg. The partners dueted on the lead vocals, and the entire band provided lush, spirited backing harmonies. “It came out so great that we just had to add it to the record,” says Kirsten. The track’s inclusion turns out to be an inspired idea—the performance is ecstatic and suffused with communal spirit, and Scott captured it with characteristic verve and skillfulness.
2017 & 2015 AmericanaFest Official Showcase Artist – Nashville, TN
2014 Americana Album of the Year for RANCHO CALIFORNIA
Los Angeles Music Awards
2013 National Touring Artist of the Year
Los Angeles Music Awards
*Top 25 Albums of The Year (The Alternate Root) *Top 10 Albums of the Year (Turnstyled Junkpiled) *Top 10 Albums of the Year (No Depression) *Top 8 Break Out Artists of Los Angeles (AXS.com) *The Best Albums of 2014 (Music & More)
Rancho California Reached #42 on The Americana Radio Chart, most added two weeks in a row with featured play on KCSN Americana Matinee, Outlaw Country (Sirius/XM), KRSH Santa Rosa CA, KBAC Santa Fe NM, NPR’s KLCC Eugene OR, and many more.
Notable past performance venues: Stagecoach Festival, Coachella CA | The Musical Instrument Museum Theater (MIM), Phoenix AZ | CBS Morning Show, Los Angeles CA| The Lobero Theater for Sings Like Hell, Santa Barbara CA | The Americana Music Association Festival, Nashville TN | The Orpheum Theater, Flagstaff AZ | Fort Vancouver 4th of July Firework Festival, Vancouver WA | Jackson County Fair Amphitheater, OR | The Troubadour, Los Angeles | The Avalon Theater, Los Angeles CA | Topanga Days, Topanga CA | The Hotel Café, Los Angeles | The Recording Academy, Los Angeles | McCabes Guitar Shop, Los Angeles | The Star Theater, Portland OR | Sutter Creek Theater, CA | Munch & Music, Bend OR | The Cowboy Festival, Santa Clarita CA | Ramona Mainstage, Ramona CA | Gram Parsons 40th Anniversary Festival, Joshua Tree CA | McMenamins (Al’s Den, Edgefield, White Eagle, Grand Lodge, Kennedy School, Old St. Francis) | The Spirit Room, Jerome AZ | The Doug Fir Lounge, Portland OR | Handlebar J’s, Scottsdale AZ | Good Day New Mexico, NM | DylanFest, Santa Monica CA | The Rutledge, Nashville TN | Moe’s Alley, Santa Cruz CA | The Convent, San Francisco CA | World Fest, Lake Balboa CA | Women’s Journey Conference, Irvine CA | Lucidity Festival, Santa Barbara CA | The Lake Theater, Lake Oswego CA | Pistol River Concert Series, Pistol River OR | Adrift Hotel, Long Beach WA | The Cowgirl, Santa Fe NM | Fender Guitars, Scottsdale AZ | The Grand Ole Echo, Los Angeles CA | Westin Lake Las Vegas, Lake Las Vegas NV | Standing Sun Wines, Buellton CA | NAMM Show Anaheim CA (Endorsed by Gretsch/Fender, Shubb, LR Baggs)
(Endorsed by Gretsch/Fender, Shubb, LR Baggs)