Hailing from Los Angeles, Trevor Beld Jimenez and his band, Tall Tales and the Silver Lining, write and record the kind of pop-rock that was destined to turn our gears here at the shop (and our label, Other Music Recording Co.). Drawing deeply from classic songwriters like Neil Young, Court and Spark-era Joni Mitchell, and Heartbreakers-era Tom Petty, Beld Jimenez mixes tried and true instrumentation with simple words and stellar hooks; the result is a blissfully assured album from a guy whose thoughts seem born to be melodies. Tightropes is at turns joyous, accusatory or melancholy, but the overpowering vibe is sun-dappled, with Beld Jimenez walking along paths of universal concern with wry lyricism and an infectious, aw-shucks attitude.

There's twang-a-plenty throughout the record, most noticeably encased within Beld Jimenez's vocals: a kindly and engaging nasal drawl that lands squarely in the range between Ian Matthews and Ryan Adams. But while the shuffles are stately and lap steels are certainly heard to whine, this ain't no barn dance pick-a-thon. Rather, Tall Tales use country tropes and tricks as a means to an end, which puts Tightropes more in line with Jackson Browne's first couple of albums, the Notorious Byrd Brothers, and late-period Wilco. Unconventionally, the band often strips soggy bottom cheesiness out of the songs by replacing the standard heartbeat drum pattern with a more driving, "Miss You"-esque four-on-the-floor (see "Harder for You" for the proof, which boogies beautifully thanks to a snaky bass line and some sparkling chick-a-chack electric guitar).

Some of the early notices for Tightropes have drawn a dotted line from Beld Jimenez's songs to another contemporary band who successfully mined the caverns of '70s and '80s AM radio rock: Philadelphia's the War on Drugs, whose 2014 album Lost in the Dream also hung its hat on hooks first polished by Tom Petty and Dire Straits. But where the Druggies indeed lose themselves repeatedly inside of extended jams, Beld Jimenez and his group excel within the radio-friendly confines of three or three-and-a-half minutes, packing each song with smart turnarounds and licks that make Tightropes a sprightly, endlessly repeatable affair. It's a modern take on classic California pop, a midnight ride from Laurel Canyon to Joshua Tree, wind in your hair, radio blasting. (February 26, 2015)

Reviewed by Michael Stasiak