I thought that I had fallen for the same old trap. You know, books and covers and making quick judgments. that old chestnut. A cursory glance at the title and the album art, and you would expect to be faced with something folky and sixties-infused, pastoral, pop-ish, and flower-powered. Instead, you get something much more contemporary, more now than then.
But, and this is important, once you get your ear in and appreciate precisely what is happening here, things make perfect sense. This is a tribute to the late sixties, a celebration of its innovations and artistic expression; it is just that it uses a more contemporary mix of sounds and a broader spectrum of sonic hues to paint its picture. Tributes to times past don’t have to sound like they are a product of that era. People don’t write books about Shakespeare in Middle English. They don’t find inspiration in Old Masters by mixing their own paints from imported pigments. And you don’t have to sound like a sixties band to revel in the glories of those times.
And so, Sunflower 69 is dedicated to the creative high point of that decade, just before things turned dark and the love and light faded, but it is written, for the most part, in the language of modern music. Though that isn’t to say that it doesn’t hit on a few sonic references or stylistic touchstones along the way, this album is smart enough to avoid the plunder and plagiarism that most artists are happy to indulge in. As such, it perfectly ebbs and flows between sounds and styles, eras and energies, light and shade, modernity and nostalgia.
Kicking off with Run To The Rainbow, we are immediately presented with a neat blend of analog and digital sounds, gentle dance grooves, and slashes of rock guitar. And if the music is thoroughly up to the moment, lyrically, you realize that it is a song infused with the heady optimism of the hippie ideal. You also realize that we are in need of such ideas and sentiments more than ever as the political storm clouds gather, as the sound of the guns echoes in the distance, as opinions and ideas become entrenched ever deeper, and as the world fractures and divides, indeed empathy and kindness are needed more than ever. Or, to quote Nick Lowe, “What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding?” What indeed?
When we get to Lavender Love-In, we see the real hybrid of eras in action. This pastoral folk song, full of oriental cascades and slightly psychedelic hued, certainly harks back to the Summer of Love, and the following Make Love, Not War is even more drenched in trippy, hazy optimism, and deft tones and delicate textures, ambient soundscapes, and space.
But if you think that the album errs on the side of the understated and restrained, songs such as Our Turn, with its squalling, stomping blues-rock grooves, remind us that the era was about much more than hippie sentiment; it was also the point where rock and roll was begetting rock, the age of the likes of Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin, and this is a real foot-on-the-monitor, heads down no-nonsense, mindless boogie par excellence.
There are Santana-esque guitar celebrations on songs like Using You, epic chamber pop with Opposites Attract, smooth country-blues courtesy of Dinkin’ Problem, and the album is put to bed with the gorgeous folk sentiments of Joni, a song very music in the style of the titular artist.
The more you play this album, the cleverer you realize it is. It is music about those times though not necessarily of them, though some smart 60’s sonic DNA is generally found running through the songs. And lyrically, again, there is an appreciation of the meanings and messages of the music scene of such times but now better appreciated with the passing of time.
The more you play Sunflower 69, the more you get it and the more rewarding the experience is. And you will play it a lot. Trust me; I’m a music journalist!