In Gregory David Roberts’ novel “Shantaram,” written about an escaped convict working in the Mumbai black market, the spiritual Mafia don Abdel Khader Khan explained life as constantly moving from simplicity toward some unknown source of divinity, toward an ultimate complexity. If this is the case, Oakland’s Tumbleweed Wanderers are headed in the right direction with the release of its bright and luscious sophomore album, “Realize,” which is rooted in a unique blending of soul, psychedelia, folk and classic rock that has evolved from the band’s acoustic busking origins to an iridescent swirl of rock.
Through two EP’s and one full length album, Tumbleweed Wanderers’ Rob Fidel (vocals / guitar / banjo), Jeremy Lyon (vocals / guitar), Patrick Glynn (keys / mandolin), Greg Fleischut (vocals / bass / guitar) and Daniel Blum (drums, who played on “Realize” but is no longer a member of the band) displayed a knack for constructing soulful music that seemed to have sprouted from the rolling meadows along the Big Sur coast. “Realize” sees the band flesh out its sound with more vivid textures that are grander in depth and scope than anything they have done so far in a budding career.
The band members cut 15 basic tracks with recording engineer Robert Cheek (Band of Horses) at Panoramic Studios in Stinson Beach, Calif., where My Morning Jacket recorded its stunning “The Waterfall,” and took those sessions back to a personal studio, where they spent months saturating the tracks with sonic layers and overdubs. After whittling down the album to the 11 strongest tracks, the band took it to Brian Deck (Iron & Wine, Modest Mouse) to mix the recordings into a top-notch product.
The band’s patience in the studio paid off. The album is filled with songs that fit as a cohesive collection, but are still able to touch on a number of different sounds. The lead-off song, “Bad Blood,” tingles with a cool intensity of organ, guitar and Lyon’s passionate voice. It then transforms into a sweeping rock anthem with dramatic female accompaniment and pumping guitar solos. But the band can effortlessly shift the latitude of their music and get into the deep, boogie-buzz of “Velvet Dreams”, that skips like a Delta blues band with Bay Area charm, or blast into the exuberant charge of “Restless” as it careens along the open highway with a Dr. Dog-like force.
“Pirates” is one particularly bright shimmer on the album. It completely hooks you into its rippling guitar riff and cowboy-soul harmonies, and doesn’t release you until the bold outro. “Easy Comes” is another dynamic song on the album, as it starts off as a striking country ballad before morphing into a heavy, golden wave of electric guitar and crashing drums, suggesting that some of My Morning Jacket’s cosmic dust must have been lingering in Panoramic Studios the day the band hit record.
“Realize” is definitely an album that is always moving confidently in a certain direction and nothing takes a more elevated path than “Higher.” The song wakes up in an atmospheric-folk daze before slowly ascending into the air on Lyon’s pillowy vocals and the band’s dreamy melody. After a glaring guitar solo, the band launches into a divine gospel-soul rise to the stratosphere before whispering away.
The remarkable thing about what the Tumbleweed Wanderers did on “Realize” is that it managed to craft an album that is constantly engaging and never dips in quality or complexity. That is certainly evidence of a band moving in the right direction.
- Tumbleweed Wanderers
Release: June 9, 2015
Notable Tracks: “Pirates,”“Easy Come,” “Higher”