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CALICO the band is a California band in the deepest, most natural sense of the term. Specifically, the moniker (all caps, please) is shorthand for California country—as if that weren’t vividly apparent from the first moments of Under Blue Skies, the group’s resonant, accomplished sophomore album, with its musical intricacy, lyrical eloquence and timeless immediacy. The thought-provoking, tightly harmonized songs of founder/leaders Manda Mosher and Kirsten Proffit exist in a continuum with the seminal form Gram Parsons famously dubbed Cosmic American Music.
The sound of Under Blue Skies is informed by the duo’s shared love of Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Eagles, the Everly Brothers, Fleetwood Mac and, of course, the Beatles. Their songwriting touchstones include Joni Mitchell (whose “Ladies of the Canyon” they cover on the album), Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, The Band and Tom Petty. Mosher and Proffit feel so connected to this classic music that they’re able to bring it into the present tense and make it their own.
The partners are California natives with back stories so perfectly complementary they could’ve been scripted, the screenwriter inevitably rendering their predestined intersection as “second-generation hippie meets showbiz kid.” Proffit’s parents were nomadic hippies who roamed from Santa Cruz to Majorca, Spain, and back again with their little girl in tow. Mosher’s family on her mother’s side has been in California since the wagon-train era, while her grandfather was writer and creator of classic sitcoms including Leave It to Beaver and The Munsters. One key ingredient the two sets of parents had in common was their record collections, which shaped the two youngsters’ sensibilities in a profound and lasting way.
“We dug in deeper on this record from a songwriting standpoint,” Manda continues. “Because we’ve spent so much time together, we feel more comfortable expressing vulnerability in the lyrics; there are definitely more love songs. There’s certainly meaning to Rancho California, but it’s more broad strokes; on Under Blue Skies, we were able to dig in and get more personal.”
Kirsten and Manda had finished the record to their satisfaction when they came up with the entirely fitting idea of covering the Mamas & the Papas classic “California Dreamin’.” Just before Christmas 2016, they headed to Scott’s PLYRZ Studio in Santa Clarita with their rhythm section of Kamp and drummer Matt Lucich, augmented by a crew of all-star players including Greg Leisz on pedal steel, Neal Casal on 12-string electric, Patrick Warren on keys and Kaitlin Wolfberg. The partners dueted on the lead vocals, and the entire band provided lush, spirited backing harmonies. “It came out so great that we just had to add it to the record,” says Kirsten. The track’s inclusion turns out to be an inspired idea—the performance is ecstatic and suffused with communal spirit, and Scott captured it with characteristic verve and skillfulness.
The new album is further enriched by the mix, conducted with signature artistry and insightfulness by the renowned Jim Scott (Petty, Wilco) through his vintage Neve console.
Mosher and Proffit are the indigenous inheritors—and perpetuators—of a rich legacy, and their vision of California unfolds with widescreen Technicolor splendor on Under Blue Skies.
With Under Blue Skies, CALICO has made an album that slides seamlessly into my alphabetized record collection just after Jackson Browne, Tim Buckley, the Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds. Right where it belongs.