The GearsImagine what would happen if the fantastic harmony vocals of Crosby, Stills & Nash, America and their seventies ilk met with Dave Matthews Band and other like-minded jam-band revivalists of the 1990s… Surely the end result would be something special?  That’s kind of what King Washington sound like on their debut full-length release ‘The Gears’.  And while listeners will undoubtedly pick up on a myriad of influences while listening to this record, what’s perhaps most important is the level of musicianship and songcraft; on this twelve song DIY release, King Washington prove themselves as good as any rootsy outfit lucky enough to have major label backing and a huge recording budget at their disposal.  Simply put, ‘The Gears’ IS something special.

The journey starts gently, with the title cut opening with a simple guitar riff coupled with tight wordless harmony vocals. Before long, this then breaks into a strong arrangement where those harmony vocals really get a chance to take centre stage.  Aside from those harmonies, the clean-toned guitars offer some quite lovely, choppy rhythms, while the rhythm section is suitably tight.  ‘Fourth of July’ brings another strong sense of harmonies, once again; in addition, on this second number, King Washington indulges in a few tougher sounding traits. A quasi-aggressive intro allows more room for guitar work, offering a classic echo-driven sound.  The main bulk of the tune is dominated by strong melodies and a full arrangement offering some retro solos and tinkling harpsichord sounds.  These opening numbers certainly work well as a pair, since they show an almost complete range of King Washington’s abilities.

The slow ‘Rosewood Angel’ is the album’s finest tune, full of softly played lead guitar, which occasionally recalls 1970s southern rock.  Combined with another wall of harmonies, this track really shines; a great achievement indeed, especially considering it’s up against some pretty stiff competition.  The guitar work that sounded so appealing during the intro provides recurring musical enjoyment throughout, and while it’s not a tune with an obvious hook, repeated spins allow various musical layers to present something enjoyable with every subsequent listen.  The semi acoustic ‘Fancy’ comes with a slight Dave Matthewsy vibe, where the warmth of the bass pulls in the listener.  The soft music is accompanied by an equally restrained vocal, and while it doesn’t offer much that’s radically different from KW’s other tunes, it’s nicely arranged – a little simpler, perhaps – with the rhythm section taking the bulk of the work: it’s the sound of summer, captured in a three minute capsule.  For superb examples of the King Washington sound, both this track and ‘Rosewood Angel’ are highly recommended listens.

‘Cotton’ is much punchier than your average King Washington tune (not that any of them are average), with upfront drums and a marching beat.  At the heart of the piece, though, are KW’s tried and tested world of meticulous harmonies, ensuring most of harder edges don’t feel at all out of place.  It could be said that the discordant guitar solo pushes the musical envelope just a little too far, but the unsettling mood is brief.  While musically this track may not be as intricate as some others on offer, those harmonies win out.

Finishing off an already pretty cool collection of songs, the acoustic ‘Selling Out’ leaves the listener on a chilled, but not completely downbeat note.  The finger-picked guitar lines are soft and familiar, while the vocal has a fair amount of heart.  There’s a lesser focus on harmonies at first, allowing frontman Tyson Kelly a chance to stretch his voice out a little, his slightly weary delivery sounding like it comes from someone far beyond his years.  The second half of the track reverts to more familiar sounding harmony singing and a bigger arrangement, both of which bring the track – and the album – to a satisfying end.

If you’re looking for a mellow, summery listen, it’s hard to find fault with King Washington’s ‘The Gears’.  Each of the songs are very well crafted, and a gloriously full-sounding production (courtesy of the band themselves, with Joe Puerta of Bruce Hornsby’s Range/Ambrosia fame) is the cherry on the cake.  Retro, sure, but retaining an almost timeless appeal, this is a fine, fine record indeed.

May 2012