In the essay "Red, White, Blue Suede Shoes" by author Eric Pooley, for the Grateful Dead boxset So Many Roads, he talked about how ironic it was that the powers that be had such animosity for the Dead, as they truly, truly loved America and American Music. Not the United States, mind you, but America, a spectral landscape similar to William Blake's New Jerusalem. It's hard to define what it is, exactly, because it doesn't exactly exist.
San Francisco throwback chanteuse Lucy Arnell is painting lush and ornate sonic portraits in what is sometimes known, among the heads, as Cosmic Americana. Gram Parsons coined the term to describe his unique blend of folk, country, gospel, psychedelia, and rock 'n roll.
In short, Cosmic Americana is perfect music for getting lost on country roads and back alleyways, for drifting down a muddy river on a pontoon boat (as you might imagine listening to "Carolene") under the stars. It's cosmic, as we're all under the same sky, the same stars.
Lucy Arnell describes her music as a heartfelt homage to the past, in every respect. Arnell is working predominantly with a pallet of psychedelic rock, the burnt oranges and avocado greens and bloopy letters of the late '60s and early '70s, but there's a little bit more edge here, a bit more grit, a bit more vitality that lets you know this is from now. These days, you've got to mean it. It is not the time to just relax and go with the flow.
The Whole Sky Turned Red With The Rainbow reminds me most thoroughly of a another under-appreciated purveyor of stylized American rock, Jesse Sykes, who has collaborated with experimental metal giants Sunn O))) and Boris along with fronting her own outfit The Sweet Hereafter. If Jesse Sykes is sculpting heartfelt quiet desperate country folk out of basalt and obsidian, Lucy Arnell is doing the same thing with flanged funky rock 'n roll. It's clearly rooted in the fertile soil of The Grateful Dead and Neil Young, but is delivered with a delicate shivering emotionality, behind the quavering guitar lines, like on "Houseguest" and "Cosmic America", my personal favorite track.
The Whole Sky Turned Red From The Rainbow is Lucy Arnell's first major outing, which made lead skeptics to dismiss this as just another indie-released debut from another flash-in-the-pan musician. I personally love listening to debuts, to see what they're leading off with, but this one caught me off my guard. From the first seconds of "Dr. Captain", there is a self-assuredness to Lucy Arnell's psychedelic ballads. It makes you hold your breath for a moment and really lean in and pay attention. That's when they have you, when music begins to seep in and become a part of your world.
This is usually the point where I start checking the press release, to see what is up with a record, what's the story? Imagine my surprise when I found out this unknown artist worked with Jason Abraham Roberts, and none other than Jon Fishman, the furious polyrhythmic drummer from Phish on album closer "Fatal Folk"!!! How on Earth does a brand new artist get Phish's drummer?The Whole Sky Turned Red From The Rainbow was debuted at Phil Lesh's Terrapin Crossroads, as well. This record is bristling with psychedelic royalty, which is clue one that you should really be paying attention (for those that don't have the fortitude to wade through the digital stacks themselves).
Those that take a moment to lose themselves in Lucy Arnell's lazy swaying psychedelic odysseys and oracles will not be disappointed. Her guitar tone is as sick as a leper, while her soloing is catchy and melodic, like Jerry on his best days! As an added bonus, The album ripples with interesting instrumentation and production, such as the bouncing piano chords of "Sans-Souci" or the mandolin and sitar at the tail end of "Dr. Captain", which sort of sounds like a meditation circle at a bluegrass festival.
For those that really, truly love American music, in all of its permutations, as well as damn fine songwriting and musicianship, get this now!
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