Album Reviews

Garden Party – Rose City Band – Album Review

Garden Party – Rose City Band – Album Review
by Cathy Brown

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.’


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