On “Topanga Mansion,” the debut album by Seafoam Green, Ireland-born Dave O’Grady paints landscapes that run the gamut from sorrowful to celebratory. One minute, a pedal steel lick conjures the wind; the next, a twinkling piano evokes the patter of raindrops on a window; and a song or two later, the clouds part, and electric guitars lead a boozy charge.
It’s a stunning debut with a notable guest list, including founding Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson, who produced and co-wrote the album as well as playing a host of instruments, and it should appeal to fans of soulful neo-folk in the vein of Ray LaMontagne, as well as dirty, bluesy guitar rock. The opening track, “Celtic Wonderings,” is aptly titled; it’s ethereal and lilting, with O’Grady’s rich vocals enveloped by gentle piano and mystical-sounding violin. Up next, “Down The River” is a Southern rocker with a jubilant chorus. Vintage Crowes might come to mind here, too, with tasty riffing and driving rhythms propelling the tune.
[Above, listen to Highway 81 Revisited’s exclusive premiere of “Lonely Lou,” featuring Rich Robinson and Rami Jaffee of Foo Fighters and The Wallflowers]
The rockers are fun, but the ballads are better. On “Home,” a waltz, steel guitar and organ work in tandem as Muireann “Muzz” McDermot Long’s gorgeously understated harmony vocals intertwine with O’Grady in longing introspection. “Sister,” another lighter number, clocks in at nearly 10 minutes, spending its latter third flowing easily into an hypnotic instrumental trip.
“Runaway” and “Lonely Lou” are open-road rockers, the kind of songs you hear on classic radio that make you roll down your car window to let in the wind. On the latter, which in addition to Robinson on guitar features organist Rami Jaffee (Foo Fighters, The Wallflowers), gone are the drearier dynamics of songs like “Sister,” giving way instead to crunching, carefree riffs.
Seafoam Green closes “Topanga Mansion” with “No Wasted Words,” which opens with otherworldly piano, a la Pink Floyd’s “Echoes,” before slicing guitars and O’Grady’s straightforward vocals intrude. “Everything’s a secret, if you need to know,” he sings, before a major-key chorus shines some sun into the psychedelia. It’s a strange song, tough to pin down. And when you consider the dynamics of the album, it’s a fitting way to end it — a question or a promise for the future, rather than a neat-and-tidy conclusion.
“Topanga Mansion” will be released Nov. 1 on Mellowtone Records (Liverpool). Pre-order here.