1. Chasing Rainbows
  2. Slow Burn
  3. Garden Song
  4. Porch Boogie
  5. Saturday's Gone
  6. Mariposa
  7. Moonlight Highway
  8. El Rio

Label : Thrill Jockey

Release Date : April 21, 2023

Length : 41:52

Review (Muziekkrant Oor) : Een tuinfeestje zoals de hoes aankondigt doet de lucht gonzen van de verwachtingen. Geen taaie (‘Nee, doorbakken!’) stukjes vlees, stokbroodjes Johma-salade en een blikje lauwe pils, nee, een psychedelische middag die overgaat in een nacht vol sterren, geuren en gewauwel over diepe dingen en universum, man. Nou, bij dat tuinfeestje past deze plaat als gegoten. Het is de vierde plaat van Ripley Johnson (Moon Duo, Wooden Shjips) en kornuiten onder deze naam – en verwacht vooral veel van hetzelfde: een dikke veertig minuten psychedelische Americana met fluistervocalen, lapsteel en een overvloed aan uitstekende maar ietwat richtingloze gitaarsolo’s. Nee, op het muzikantschap valt niets aan te merken. Het droomkeyboardje in Porch Boogie is om je vingers bij af te likken, de overweldigende vriendelijkheid van het toch wel knappe gitaargeweld in Mariposa is indrukwekkend. Maar net als na al dat geniale gelul over hoe klein we eigenlijk zijn en hoe groot het universum wel niet is, man, blijft de luisteraar van Garden Party toch wat onbevredigd achter, al is het maar omdat dit album wel érg veel lijkt op de vorige drie – overigens net zoals al die gesprekken over het universum, weetjewel. Op het juiste moment en de juiste plaats kan zo’n gesprek zomaar levensveranderend zijn, en anders is het slechts een fijne besteding van een lome, psychedelische middag.

Review (Loud And Quiet) : Much contemporary psychedelic music leans towards dense freak-outs and brown acid bad vibes. Not so Rose City Band: now more than ever, Portland, Oregon’s premier psychedelic country-rock project keeps determinedly to the sunny side. Literally so on Garden Party: the fourth album by Wooden Shjips and Moon Duo frontman Ripley Johnson’s cosmic country outlet is at its core a celebration of laidback and sun-baked summer fun. If 2021’s excellent Earth Trip centred on the transcendental potential of nature, we’re now stopping and smelling the flowers and gathering the bounty at the bottom of the garden. One of the album’s centrepieces, the extended, gently galloping J.J. Cale-meets-the-Grateful Dead groove of ‘Porch Boogie’, is an anthem for chilling on the titular porch on a warm day, watching the world go by in a heavy-lidded stupor. It and much of the rest of Garden Party sounds supremely baked: unhurried, hazy, ever so slightly warped around the edges. All of which might suggest sluggish lack of drama and tension. As with previous Rose City Band records, Johnson’s aversion to fireworks and straining too hard makes for beautifully alluring, warmly inviting sounds that are much more than the sum of their uncomplicated parts. The band started as a studio-based one-man band project. Although Johnson continues to handle the majority of the instruments (most notably the intricately intertwined quicksilver guitar parts) on his own, the startlingly powerful dynamics of Rose City Band’s potent live incarnation are reflected here too. Most notably in the sparkling dialogue between Johnson’s lead guitar and Barry Walker’s pedal steel on opener ‘Chasing Rainbows’: bringing to mind a contemporary psych-rock counterpart to the intuitive interplay between Neil Young and his legendary pedal steel sidekick Ben Keith, the sublimely sprightly track eventually settles into an expansive instrumental coda that the band is likely to catapult towards the stars on stage. ‘Moonlight Highway’ resembles the spaced-out melodic flights of 2020’s cosmic country masterpiece Summerlong, whilst ‘El Rio’ cooks up a mighty garage-country hypnosis from an elemental riff. Johnson has acknowledged that these songs are likely to find their full bloom on stage. There are moments (the haunting flute-enriched first section of ‘Mariposa’, gradually eases into a slightly rote easy-going Rose City Band groove) during Garden Party where you hope that Johnson had a serious go at recreating the explosive dynamics and turbulent transitions from mellow jams to muscular cosmic noodling of the band’s live sets in the studio. Now that would really be a party for the ears.

Review (No More Workhorse) : Garden Party is the fourth record in as many years by Rose City Band, the easy-going-celestial-country vehicle for guitarist and songwriter Ripley Johnson. Though he is best known for the modern psychedelia of projects Wooden Shjips and Moon Duo, the quality of his output as Rose City Band and the surety of his vision threatens to eclipse the excellence of his back catalogue. His last album, Earth Trip, was borne out of being forced off the road and into lockdown. It was a more introverted response to being compelled to stay at home and a call to appreciate the smaller things in life. Garden Party is a bigger, brighter affair, a celebration of the return of communal connection and an ode to summer. On Garden Party, Johnson returns to a similar vibe seen on 2020’s Summerlong, but this time, rather than playing almost everything himself he has enlisted the help of Moon Duo bandmates John Jeffrey on drums and Sanae Yamada on synths, as well as Rose City Band live performers Paul Hasenberg on keyboards and Barry Walker on pedal steel. As a result, Garden Party has a fuller, more collaborative sound and is an homage to blissed-out sunshine seventies country-tinged rock – all jangling slide guitar, warm organ and psychedelic harmonies. Opening track ‘Chasing Rainbows’ lays out Johnson’s stall. It has an irresistible loose country-rock jangle that calls to mind the immediacy of The Monkees at their best. It is meandering but tight, loose but epic. ‘Porch Boogie’ is six fantastic minutes of what you would expect from a song with that title. Its driving rhythm, psychedelic organ and stunning guitar lines are a vibrant call to dance. At the heart of ‘Slow Burn’ is the stunning pedal steel playing of Barry Walker, which defines the album as a whole and works in great counterpoint with Johnson’s own impressive guitar technique. ‘Mariposa’ embraces a sun-drenched easy listening ethereal sound, underpinned with warm organ and surprising with a delightful flute solo before morphing into deceptively loose psychedelic wanderings. ‘Moonlight High’ bounces along over a thumping rhythm and percussion section and features some of the best guitar playing on the album, even if it does sound delightfully like the Sesame Street theme tune. Closer ‘El Rio’ is the closest in sound to Johnson’s past iterations, with its loose spaced out sound, swirling arrangement and striking use of percussion and synth. As Rose City Band, Johnson’s great gift is to offer up albums that feel as if they have been around forever. Yet despite that vintage tinge, he never settles for nostalgia, fulfilling expectation while surprising with his innovation. If Summerlong sounded like a road trip and Earth Trip a walk in nature, then Garden Party has the same ease and warmth of the long lazy summer days it evokes. As Johnson himself sings, ‘feel the sun/ break up the rain/ take a load off your bones/ and live free.’

Review (Folk Radio) : Ripley Johnson does what he likes. Wooden Shjips and Moon Duo tend to be collaborative efforts, and while Rose City Band doesn’t function as a one-man band, Johnson is more of a benevolent leader. Garden Party acts more as a refresher course in what made music great while he was growing up. “There’s something about music that you’re exposed to when you’re young, this emotional resonance that I think stays with you forever. And I wanted to make some music that was honoring that.” To some, it may appear to be little more than a pastiche of the Grateful Dead. That kind of reductionism misses the point. Rather than being rooted in a time or a place, Garden Party seems to transcend those notions, searching for moments when the heart and soul come alive. “Mariposa” begins in an almost jazz framework before the guitars begin to create their own kind of magic. While some of the guitar work has a Dead-ish feel, the song covers so much territory that one realises this is a perfect way to herald the beginning of the soft breezes of spring and summer. The rhythmic thrust of “Moonlight Highway,” seems rooted in the jam band framework yet takes flight in keyboard grooves that seem more akin to “Weather Report Suite” than “Uncle John’s Band.” The guitar work has a looseness and flexibility, going well beyond mere imitation. As they stretch out and segue into “El Rio,” it becomes obvious that a certain level of exploration and trailblazing taking place. Johnson and his mates, pedal steel guitarist Barry Walker, keyboardist Paul Hasenberg, bassist Dewey Mahood (aka Plankton Wat), drummer Dustin Dybvig, and Sanae Yamada of Moon Duo on synthesiser can play in so many different contexts it’s almost scary. The song “Chasing Rainbows” sheds light on what they do, shifting paths and moving in directions that shape songs in ways you wouldn’t expect. The countrified boogie that opens the song sets a tone. “Gone out to blaze a path/ Brought it in and you take it back/ Finding a way of our own.” Just when you think that the pathway is set, they shift gears and slow things down after setting things up lyrically, “And you sing high in a low song/ Spaced out and chasing rainbows.” Ripley Johnson and the Rose City Band are explorers in the best sense of the term. They find unexpected corners to explore and make their journey much more intriguing in the process. Garden Party bears resemblances to any number of bands, yet at the end of the day, this is one harbinger of spring that takes pathways all of its own.

Review (Ghost Cult) : Psych-country rock trips don’t come any more sublime than this glorious helping of absolute porch and twang. Come join The Garden Party (Thrill Jockey Records), keep your eyes on the skies and your feet floating just off the floor, in cahoots with similarly-minded varmints, free spirits seeking simple pleasures. Drop your anxieties and fix yourself a beverage, Dudes, as prolific songwriter and already celebrated guitarist/vocalist Ripley Johnson (Wooden Shjips, Moon Duo) invites you to a melodic, mellow, extra sensory peace haven, his fourth outing now as Rose City Band, named for Portland, the City of Roses itself. Guitar licks as fresh and cool as a paradisiacal popsicle will leave you woozy, wonky, and a little bit fuzzy, mindfully meditating as you contemplate the cosmic. Jammy fans of the Grateful Dead will be happy they are alive, and you might even find yourself surrendering to the sensation of falling slow-motion backwards, cushioned by a strategically placed pillow, or welcoming foliage, cradling your ass above an idyllic rural river bank. Or taking a long drive at night, top-down below an expansive, star-speckled sky, carefree as you head towards transcendence, somewhere just west of the wide-open spaces of blessed infinity. The sizzly interplay between geetar and pedal steel (Barry Walker, prominent on most tracks) is apparent right from the opener, ‘Chasing Rainbows’, a song that almost comes to a halt before finding some new gear. The central ‘Porch Boogie’ does everything it says on the tin as the expertise and flexibility of these musicians, these cosy virtuosi, suggest the live jam possibilities could be seemingly endless (Don’t fall into the mistake of thinking this stuff is as “easygoing”, or simply as “easy”, as it might sound. The live band line-up changes a bit, but you’ll get the drift). ‘Saturday’s Gone’ is suitably elegiac and melancholic, slow enough at times to be almost static (“With Saturday gone, We carry along, And ride in the wake, In sight of it all”). The seven-minute-plus ‘Mariposa’ has an almost prog rock, Porcupine Tree thing going on but heads in another, subtle direction, moseying along like a rabbit or some other furry critter, then scampering through a sun-dappled glade. Despite its bittersweet lyrics, ‘Moonlight Highway’ sounds like fun (and sounds, at times, almost Manzarek-ly like The Doors – Moonlight Drive, anyone?), and is another of those tracks that could yet take on a new existence in a live setting. The bandleader also plays bass, piano, and mellotron, as well as covering some percussion, with excellent drummer John Jeffrey. Paul Hasenberg contributes keyboards on seven of the album’s eight songs, while Sanae Yamada adds synths to ‘Moonlight Highway’ and to ‘El Rio’, the closing track that once again showcases Johnson’s very special tone, textures and guitarmonies, as this skillful, wistful journey meanders its way to a radiant finale.