At times this year it would seem the most interesting and insistent sounds falling under the amorphous umbrella of Americana invariably come from bands and ensembles with at least half an eye on history. The ebullient Bennett Wilson Poole exemplify this, channelling McGuinn, Crosby and Garcia while making something triumphantly original from the fused elements of their own pasts in Grand Drive, The Dreaming Spires, and Starry Eyed And Laughing.
The shade of Jerry Garcia wanders widely, heard on Hans Chew’s mighty, and rightly acclaimed Open Sea, and in the recordings and performances of The Cordovas, One Eleven Heavy, and the aptly named Garcia Peoples. They’ve all been central sounds of this bright summer along with recent releases from West London’s storied Loose Music which dovetail quite fittingly into this current. That these all come from bands and players with history shows simply the virtue of sticking to a good idea until its time comes.
It’s the best part of a decade since The Treetop Flyers first attracted notice with their five track EP To Bury The Past, and they were quickly an accomplished live set-up, as the extant radio recording of their 2010 Reeperbahn Festival set shows. Another three years would pass before songs performed there surfaced on their 2013 debut The Mountain Moves. It would be followed by 2016’s Palomino, and they’re now just releasing their third, self-titled album.
Treetop Flyers is certainly their most diverse, confident, and satisfying record thus far. Their chosen name’s antecedent was always going to have them viewed through a West Coast prism but maybe California is simply a launch pad, this album flowing unanchored, as much at home in West Tennessee as in California. The addition of ‘Free Jazz’ Geoff Widdowson on saxophone and new drummer Rupert Shreeve, to augment the founding trio of Reid Morrison, Laurie Sherman, and Sam Beer has clearly bought new powers and direction to the unit.
The album begins with a mighty wind; perhaps clearing the cobwebs, or even sweeping away whatever’s not foundational; whatever, as it dissipates, or perhaps from its centre, comes the tranquil, drifting yet reassuring, instrumental ‘Flea Drops’. This is how matters will proceed. There’s movement and variety throughout the record but mainly without shock or abruptness; it remains organic and a piece, though its structure may reveals itself only gradually.
‘Sweet Greens & Blues’ and ‘It’s Hard To Understand’ are something of a pair, both original and familiar, imbued with Memphis soul; the former coloured by Widdowson’s relaxed horn, the latter with Stax organ sound. Morrison sings on both of these but Beer takes over for ‘Kooky Clothes’. Arriving with elements of Crazy Horse stalk and continuing with more than a tinge of the Airplane, it never entirely loses its air of menace and darkness. Reaching its climax the guitars have begun compellingly to flex their muscles, and hint of what’s to come.
Both ‘Needle’ and ‘Astral Plane’ hover in a stoner haze; the former, based on a loop of a stylus marooned in a run-off groove, has delightful smoke-ring sax, while the latter dissolves into mellotron ‘Warning Bell’ then pulls things back into focus with breezy blue-eyed soul, setting us up for ‘Art Of Deception’.
You sense from its very openings ‘Art Of Deception’ is going to be big and so it proves. Over the first three minutes it’s taking its time, using the verses as cover to move all the pieces into place. Then it simply starts to fly and suddenly we’re into a sequence of majestic instrumental twists and turns; if it’s jamming it’s artfully constructed, following a path, and the only complaint can be it finishes too soon. Summery, soulful, psychy, and compelling so that the transition into Beer’s acoustic ‘I Knew I’d Find You’ is momentarily unnerving.
These gentle verses of reassurance, and the equally melancholic piano and string instrumental, ‘Door 14’, carrying slight hints of both Leonard Cohen and ragtime, usher us to the album’s conclusion. Except it’s not concluded because the echoes insistently remain, and all there is to do is listen again.