Earth Trip by Rose City BandRelease date: June 25, 2021
Label: Thrill Jockey
Seems like the more stressful times get the more music Ripley Johnson supplies to counteract them. Earth Trip follows last year’s Rose City Band(RCB)offering Summerlong, hot on the heels of 2019’s last Moon Duo lp and 2018’s last Wooden Shjips release – musical comfort blankets all. Perhaps it’s no surprise we get another Rose City Band album so soon, as it’s largely a solo project, the lap steel playing of Barry Walker aside. RCB is an outlet for this prodigious songwriter’s more country stylings, and is perfectly suited to a man in lockdown with a lot of time on his hands and local wide open spaces to contemplate in.
Opener, ‘Silver Roses’ shares a very obvious bone structure with CSNY’s ‘Helpless’ and with similar themes of returning home, ‘blue birds’ in the lyrics, and it’s familiarity and classic form it gathers you up and declares this as a safe space for you to ease your worried mind. The whole album is a product of Johnson being “called down off the road” and addresses the two universals’ discovered through lockdown; the basic need for human contact and how the natural world outside your back door is the very best balm. The slightly mystical reconnecting with nature, being absorbed in the moment and the unreality of the present reality are perfectly matched by the mild, acid fried edge to these songs, with Johnson’s vocals very present and central, but soft and fuzzy.
‘In The Rain’ opens with gently wheezing harmonica, continuing the Harvest/ CSNY vibe. The song just eases by on a rolling gait and languid extended guitar lines with that typical psychedelic shimmer. A lot of Earth Trip provides a Spiritualised-esque junkie-gospel gentle uplift. It’s Americana, but with a nineties-noughties indie rock sensibility, however ‘Lonely Places’ changes the scenery slightly by being a sedate honky tonk. It’s like when Silver Jews/Purple Mountains played it as straight as they could, suppressing the cynicism and smart arsery and just celebrating the great, untamed outdoors, the darkness and the light. God I miss David Berman so much and this lovely song sounds like a nod to him, but as such can be a tough listen for me.
Happily, other songs retain their joyful air entirely. Just the title alone ‘Ramblin’ With The Day’ gives you a sunny, off the leash disposition and lines like “springtime in the mind of a child” and “feeling of the dirt in my toes, wandering in the cold morning dew” will have you mentally packing your rucksack, desperate for a slow communion with the woods.
The equally life affirming ‘World Is Turning’ (another Neil Young nod?) is playfully woozy in almost in a country glam way, but it’s not heavy on the pastiche and has a wonderful pop sensibility, what sounds like a mandolin calling to mind Out of Time era R.E.M.
Yeah, it’s country rock, but Ripley’s more devoted space cadets will be amply catered for here, no more so than on the closing nine minutes-plus of ‘Dawn Patrol’, a quietly wide-eyed and wondrous trip. Man, once you get your head nodding on this one you will be lost. It’s a number Johnson’s occasional collaborator Pete Kember of Spaceman3 would be proud of. The lysergic guitar lines seem to spin out into the cosmos, but the lyrics are earthbound, an Earth Trip, indeed – “I can see a new dawning, find your spirit in the forest/hear the calling, realise that you are home“.
What a beautiful record.