Los Angeles folk rockers GospelbeacH have an imminent record, “Let It Burn,” available on Friday, Oct. 4 via the Alive Naturalsound label. This is a bittersweet release, because it marks the return of guitarist Neal Casal, who was frontman Brent Rademaker’s longtime compadre from Beachwood Sparks’ days, and is featured on the GospelbeacH debut album, 2015’s “Pacific Surf Line.” Casal passed away on Aug. 26, 2019, at the age of 50, in the prime of his career.
This album has layers. Taking Casal out of it for the moment, Rademaker and songwriting partner Trevor Beld-Jiminez have brought GospelbeacH to a unique place with this latest effort – all three studio releases have three dramatically different, but complementary soundscapes. “Pacific Surf Line” has a heavy Crosby/McGuinn/Hillman Laurel Canyon vibe, 2017’s “Another Summer of Love” brings out more of the Tom Petty influences, especially with the Benmont Tench-like wizardry of keyboardist Jonny Niemann, and “Let It Burn” is something else. It’s somewhere between Bob Dylan’s “Blood On The Tracks” and Tom Petty’s very underrated “Echo.”
Things are less bouncy, the playlist seems more melancholic and somber this time around, although not completely. But alas, this was all still before Casal’s untimely death, which then makes you re-evaluate everything, as this will be remembered as one of the profound picker’s last works. That said, there are several emotionally uplifting moments. This record quickly becomes a complex listen when you add up all the dynamics.
It’s a very strong choice to come out of the gates with a ballad, and GospelbeacH does just that with “Bad Habits.” The song sets the tone for the album, and Casal absolutely lifts everything into the stratosphere with a closing guitar solo reminiscent of Mick Taylor on The Rolling Stones’ “Winter” or “Time Waits For No One.” By the end of the song, you have the feeling that you’re in for something special by spinning this record. That’ll do indeed. “Dark Angel” has guitar sub hooks, a big chorus, and all of the Tom Petty feels that you want from a folk-pop rocker. We’re still rocking with “I’m So High” – an energetic jolt that would be right at home on Teenage Fanclub’s “Songs From Northern Britain.”
“Baby (It’s All Your Fault)” has Beld-Jiminez’s handiwork all over it. I can spot that trademark twangy, singer-songwriter, arching, melodic, harmony-drenched styling from his work with “Parting Lines/Tall Tales & The Silver Lining.” Then “Fighter” picks you back up off the mat, with Niemann’s piano weaving, and Casal’s rhythm comping that gradually melts into a scorching lead as the song progresses, with an underlying message that is inviting in these times. Title track “Let It Burn” feels a bit like “Fooled Again” (I Don’t Like It) off of Tom Petty’s debut record, but with its own turbulent twist.
Go do yourself a favor, pour a well-balanced White Russian or two, and pick up all of GospelbeacH’s studio releases – “Pacific Surf Line,” “Another Summer of Love,” and “Let It Burn.” Listen to all three in sequence, and you’ll be in the tube for some deep, cosmic California songwriting sunshine.
— Jon Siembieda
‘Let It Burn’
Release: Oct. 4, 2019
Label: Alive Naturalsound