Back when Gram Parsons split from the Byrds and formed the Flying Burrito Brothers, no one could have predicted that, in one simple act, a musical revolution would have its Che Guevara. Lately, there's been a movement afoot to rethink Parsons's place in the birth of country rock, as if it were possible to suddenly claim 30 years later that the emperor had no plaid flannel clothes. The fact is that Gram Parsons is neither charlatan nor deity; he's just a man who helped inspire a couple of generations of country-flavored rock. On the doing-it-right side of the ledger is Beachwood Sparks, the California-based psychedelic twang merchants who brilliantly captured the mood and mechanism of Byrdsian country and Buffalo Springfield rock on their eponymous 1999 debut. With the new album, Once We Were Trees, the band pushes the reverb a shimmering step further and is even more deeply immersed in the country-tinged psychedelia of its forefathers.
With nods to early Grateful Dead and Buffalo Springfield's more extreme flights of fancy, along with dashes of baroque pop, Beachwood Sparks present an alternate beginning to country rock's past. The primary difference between Beachwood Sparks' two albums is that their debut was slightly more song-oriented, while Once We Were Trees is often so laden with trippy atmosphere that the songs get somewhat lost on the lysergic hayride. One exception is the title track, which closes the disc. The song reverberates with the pedal steel wonder and electric country innocence of the time it emulates, only to climax in a squall of feedback and punkish fury. Even in their excesses, Beachwood Sparks have a fascinating facility for re-creating a period that they obviously respect and love.