Chris Laterzo: West Coast Sound

ChrisLaterzo_WestCoastSoundCanyon country with echoes of Neil, Gram, Jackson and the Byrds

There’s always been a note of Neil Young’s high, keening tone in Chris Laterzo’s voice, but on his fifth album, backed by twanging alt-country, the notes are more plentiful and apparent. That’s not a criticism, it’s a compliment, as Laterzo doesn’t copy Young so much as sing original songs in a style that echoes Young’s work from the ‘60s and ‘70s. You can also hear flavors of Shannon Hoon in his high notes and Chris Robinson in his tremelo, and the loping rhythms of Laterzo’s American “cowboy rock” also connect him to the cosmos of Gram Parsons. The album’s title track finds Laterzo surrendering not just to the natural elements of his adopted California, but also to the the country-tinged rock that once flowed freely from Laurel Canyon.

Laterzo sings lovingly of his former neighborhood, “Echo Park,” memorializing the people, places and lifestyle of an important point in his life. Dan Wistrom’s pedal steel is particularly potent on this track. Laterzo is settled in Los Angeles, but having grown up in Denver, Boston and Brussels, he harbors a wanderlust that’s satiated as a touring musician and as the rambler of “Tumbleweed.” The road beckons more darkly as an avenue of escape for “Someday Blue,” with a tempo and acoustic guitar that suggest the despair of the Rolling Stones’ “Angie.” Despair turns to resignation in “Drag,” as Laterzo concludes you can’t negotiate with a closed book, and resignation turns to spite in “Subaru,” despite the lyric’s claim to the contrary.

There’s a wistfulness to Laterzo’s singing that merges memories with realizations. The backward glances of “The Bradbury” and “Chaperone” aren’t nostalgia, they’re the slightly stoned, or in the case of “Chaperone,” fantastically dreamed, building blocks of experience. The latter is stripped down to acoustic guitar and snare drum, and played at a tempo that perfectly paces the sleepwalking vocal. Laterzo often sounds lost in thought, as if his thoughts are extemporaneous and still forming as they’re being related; it’s a powerful way to draw listeners into songs. The album is low-key, but Laterzo’s reflections are bright and engrossing, and will entice fans of Young, Jackson Browne, the Byrds and other canyon dwellers. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

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