When the Beachwood Sparks rode off into the sunset after 2002′s Making The Cowboy Robots Cry EP, the band extinguished a country-rock flame that’s rarely burned as bright since. During their three-year existence, the Los Angeles collective made cosmic American music that swirled together country twang, psychedelic atmosphere and ’60s-pop sunshine into a honey-sweet blend. A handful of 2008 reunion shows revealed the mixture was still potent; The Tarnished Gold, the group’s first studio effort in a decade, is an even more intoxicating return.
After the rousing opening of “Forget the Song” and “Sparks Fly Again,” the 13-track set turns as mellow and luxurious as a nap in the park. The soft-focus balladry of “Nature’s Light” evokes Gordon Lightfoot, while tracks such as “Alone Together” and “Talk About Lonesome” draw again from the ever-nourishing well of Neil Young and Gram Parsons. “Mollusk” has a murder ballad’s chill, while the title track turns its lonely eyes and pedal steel to new love. Latin tangent “No Queromos Oro” may be more “Three Amigos” than Calexico, but the band’s always chased its cowboy meditations with a shot of whimsy. The Tarnished Gold is a triumphant return to the saddle.