With summer just a little over a week away, two purveyors of musical sunshine have teamed up for their first collaborative album - and it delivers on its implied promise of sun, surf, and tropical breezes. Singer-songwriter Jeff Larson has joined with his longtime collaborator, Jeffrey Foskett of The Beach Boys, for 'Elua Aloha, an upbeat and inviting celebration of the California sound in all its many colors.
Larson has written all but two of the songs on this New Surf release, and produced or co-produced nearly every track, while both artists (whose voices mesh beautifully) share vocal duties on leads and backgrounds. They're joined by a host of fine musicians including bassist Hank Linderman, drummer Ryland Steen, multi-instrumentalist Jeff Pevar (with too many credits to mention but notably one-third of CPR with David Crosby and James Raymond), ex-Chicago bassist Jason Scheff, The Smithereens' drummer Dennis Diken, and America's Gerry Beckley.
There's a fresh, crisp sound in the air on the happily romantic opening track. The breezy harmonies of "Feeling Just the Way I Do" recall the best of America (think "Don't Cross the River," for one). Hawaiian pop legend Henry Kapono, one half of Cecilio and Kapono, not only wrote the song (a C&K classic) but shares the lead vocal with Foskett and lends his acoustic guitar. Larson bottles the perfect antidote for a rainy day on "Need a Little Summer" with its catchy melody and gorgeous bridge. He takes the lead on the uptempo track while Foskett supplies his trademark Beach Boys falsetto backgrounds.
"You Remind Me of the Sun," a new recording of the Larson favorite with a Foskett lead vocal, continues to keep the blues at bay, as does the bright, jangle-pop of "The Word Go." (The first version of "The Word Go" can be heard on 2000's Room for Summer.) "She Has to Know by Now," originally recorded on 2006's Swimming in the Make Believe, gets another strong reworking.
The impressionistic yet vividly clear lyric of "Windblown Mind" adds up to an ode to the Golden State music that has clearly enchanted both Larson and Foskett - and likely anyone who would consider picking up this release. Even more specific is the atmospheric "Shadows of the Canyon," written for The Accidental Photographer, the 2017 documentary about Henry Diltz. Larson namechecks The Byrds, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, and other "shadows" of Laurel Canyon on this heartfelt homage. (Diltz's calligraphy actually adorns this album.)
'Elua Aloha deftly blends uptempo material with softer sounds, and electric with acoustic moods. John Blakely plays the titular instrument on the delicate, tropically-flavored ode to a "Girl with Uke." A shimmering Gerry Beckley ballad with his trademark melodic sensibility, "All Bets Are Off," features Larson in the lead supported by both the songwriter and Foskett. (Beckley plays piano, acoustic, and electric guitars on the track, while Jason Scheff takes on bass and Chris Tedesco plays trumpet). "Hazy Sunshine," also previously recorded in a solo version by Larson, has a beautifully wistful quality; Beckley joins lead vocalist Foskett on the harmonies. In a nice flourish, Erik Andrews adds an evocative trumpet. One of the album's most moving tracks is also in a ballad mode. "Frontier Village" is a pretty, low-key remembrance of the San Jose western-themed amusement park that existed between 1961 and 1980. A warmth recalling David Gates' finest songs infuses the track. "Satellite Sky," a bonus track for the Japan release on the Vivid Sound label, is included on the U.S. edition as well as a U.S.-exclusive bonus, "World I'm In." It serves as a soft grace note for the album. (The Japan edition lacks "World I'm In" but boasts unique cover artwork and expanded packaging.)
Alternately invigorating and relaxing, the altogether refreshing 'Elua Aloha is a fine addition to the California musical landscape from two practitioners who have earned their own place in the storied musical tradition. (Those looking for more from the artists should seek out their best-of collections released in Japan in 2016.) For those who need a little summer (and who doesn't?), the sounds of Jeffrey Foskett and Jeff Larson are sure to remind you of the sun.
- Feeling Just the Way I Do
- Need a Little Summer
- Windblown Mind
- Girl with Uke
- You Remind Me of the Sun
- All Bets Are Off
- Hazy Sunshine
- The Word Go
- Frontier Village
- She Has to Know by Now
- Shadows of the Canyon
- Satellite Sky (Japan & U.S. Bonus Track)
- World I'm In (U.S. Bonus Track)