Gold star

Bandmates realizes its potential with sophomore release ‘I’m Gold’

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer

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3 out of 5 stars
I’M GOLD
Bandmates
Independent

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The local duo Bandmates has always had a quirky charm. Partners in both music and life, Kimberly Castrellon and Susan Carson approach music with a relaxed attitude, creating a landscape of hippie sensibilities that feel gloriously nostalgic yet fresh. In their second album I’m Gold, their best talents come together for a lush package of tracks that put them on an entirely new level.

The duo’s first release, 2006’s The Buddha and the Alien, hinted at their Woodstock-ish sound, but in Gold their potential becomes fully realized. That shows immediately on the opening track, which sets the tone  with stellar production values capturing all the nuanced sounds without any mismatched levels. “Cancun” eases you into the album setting the groovy mood and introducing the band’s polished sound. Castrellon’s layered vocals display maturity and smoothness against the trippy guitar that keeps her afloat like a raft on whitewater.

HIPPIE CHICKS | Partners in life and music, Carson and Castrellon make beautiful music together on their sophomore album.

There’s a lot of Mamas and Papas channeling here — quite a feat, since Castrellon handles the majority of the vocals with Carson along for most of the ride. But the engineered harmonies are exquisite. On the flip side, when she’s on her own, Castrellon sings with devout conviction taking on the characters of her song from the eclectic, as in “IX 14,” to the comforting (“Blue Blue Moon”). The languid “Embrace” plays way sexy with Santana-like guitars gracing the tune as Castrellon turns on heightened sensuality. This is great work.

Carson’s presence is hardly unnoticed; she’s the backbone of Bandmates. Primarily working on bass, she doesn’t let it slide away into rhythm track limbo, giving gritty touches necessary on the edgier “Hit It” and filling in a sophisticated groove to “Spyware.” She adds unique touches with her upright bass-playing and most notably, her ukulele work.

Bandmates didn’t scrimp on tracks with a healthy 14 songs on the disc, but they keep them short and sweet (the album clocks in at just 38 minutes). It’s an ambitious package, largely successful, but they do have their missteps. Where much of the album flows with its identity, some tunes derail it.

The title song comes off like a wild mashup, where staccato singing doesn’t match the flowing guitars; it’s a shame, because the lyrics are compelling. What could have been anthemic plays as epileptic.

The penultimate track, “Delightful,” drones on — not a good vibe at the end of an album. Despite strong musical touches, the chorus runs weak and overall, the elements didn’t gel. Those along with a couple of other weaker tracks seemed more focused on elements singularly than the portrait of the entire song.

As songwriters, Castrellon and Carson offer quality lyrics. For Gold, they paint pictures of tropical nights and island moons without resorting to Beach Boys rip-offs.

Their folk foundation is secure while they add subtle elements like the uke and classical guitar adeptly contributed by former Jane Doe member Gloria Cortez (Carson is also a Jane Doe alum).

Major props go to Cortez’s work. She’s mastered the art of making an electric guitar seem to whisper, like in “I Want You Real.” Her strings hover like ghosts that you feel instead of hear. Along with Cortez, a roster of guest musicians helped make Gold into a complete package. Brandon Lavy’s percussion on “Sanctuary” comes off as simple, but it offers a strong sense of weight to rely on. Roxanne Layton’s recorder work is stellar on “Caught in a Dream” proving it doesn’t have to sound like that treacherous elementary school instrument everyone’s forced to learn. Jerri Parkhurts and April Samuels also contribute impressive drum and percussion work throughout.

This is part of the magic of Bandmates and perhaps even the genesis of their name. They are a duo that creates a family of musicians which shows in the album’s cohesion. I’m Gold is a major step forward for Bandmates. They’ve learned their strengths but challenge themselves to be better. And it shows.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 6, 2012.

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