News Column

Nashville-based duo Escondido roams the spaghetti western frontier

October 16, 2013


Oct. 16--In the opening moments of the video for Nashville-based duo Escondido's track "Black Roses," a slightly out of focus figure slowly walks into the frame.

It turns out to be producer/guitarist Tyler James, who soon performs a short, almost mariachi-themed trumpet medley atop a sandy hill that's surrounded by open skies and the faint hiss of the dry desert wind.

Sporting an embellished black suit that brings to mind the rugged southwestern style immortalized in Italian director Sergio Leone's 1960s classic films "A Fistful of Dollars" and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," James roams the barren landscape as frontwoman Jessica Maros coyly sings, "A silence, a hush so complete/Just the bell of the church ringing out in the street, all for you/Oh darling, is it you?"

The dreamy, sepia-toned clip is just another indication of how the craftsmanship of the songs that comprise their 2013 debut album, "The Ghost of Escondido," rings true. With a mix of longing, weary resignation and dusty cracks of sunlight, the collection carries the weight of a well-oiled, reverb-drenched vehicle built to give a dim room a nice tint.

Maros delivers her lyrics with an angelic mysteriousness, playing the melancholy steward of full disclosure effortlessly, while James paints a sonically reliable backdrop that contains little overdub fuss and lends a refined rawness to the disc.

"I've always wanted to make a pop record, a kind of spaghetti western soundtrack vibe, but with three-minute pop songs instead of just orchestration," James said by phone last week while on a road trip to Michigan with Maros and some friends for a wedding. "It's really deliberate. But we didn't want to make it too highly stylized, which is why I decided to track the record in one day, so we let it sound like the four dudes in that room, plus Jessica."

The pair, who'll be in town with an ensemble of touring musicians for a gig at the Academy of Fine Arts this Saturday, originally met in quite a serendipitous manner at James' home studio, where he was recording their mutual friend in the summer of 2011.

After everyone decided to take five and pour a few drinks in the kitchen, Maros began quietly strumming her guitar on the couch, prompting James to instinctively hit the record button and lay down a simple groove. Later that night, not sure if the impromptu session had amounted to anything substantial, they listened to the rough demo and figured cutting an album together wasn't such a bad idea.

The tune in question, a misty break-up ballad entitled "Rodeo Queen," worked its way onto "The Ghost of Escondido" and finds Maros channeling the heartache of a friend, transforming her purrs into a sultry presence that's prominent, arresting, and up front in the mix.

"It's a story of this moment of being in love and having someone there, and then having them leave you," the singer said. "And the music really gives it its vibe and its feeling. And, for me, that's my strength, evoking an emotion, and telling a story through my voice."

Recorded live at The Casino, a production facility that bills itself as "a dimly lit, thick vibed, dense hang of a recording studio" on Music City's east side, Escondido's LP captures that initial impact, the spontaneity that comes from a group of talented players going for the master take together and getting it fast.

The breezy tempo on "Cold October" is reminiscent of the golden-twang era of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' 1979 cash crop "Damn the Torpedoes," with its accessible warmth and an instantly memorable chorus: "That's the old me talking, the new me is walking/Some hearts are just made for locking darlin'/It's a cold October."

The electric guitar flourishes on "Willow Tree" are impossibly lonesome and incredibly alluring all at the same time, while the steady acoustic hum on "Evil Girls" and the 1950s sock-hop jangle of "Don't Love Me Too Much" cut through canyons of psychedelic wham that would never materialize amid a wash of Pro Tools and Auto-Tune.

"That's kind of our band's thing," James said. "We want to be ourselves and do something unique, but it's fun to nod your cap to composers, arrangers, producers -- you know those sounds that influenced us. I'm 31 now and making music is way more fun than when I was 21, because you have more experience under your belt. You've listened to more music and made more records."


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