Pacific Range is a promising young band whose second album (and first for Curation Records) was produced by Dan Horne, multi-instrumentalist of Circles Around The Sun. High Upon The Mountain is a mutually empathetic collaboration that illustrates that, while the quartet’s playing transcends its own material, that doesn’t undermine their potential. It’s a perfectly natural state of affairs for many fledgling bands whose instrumental chemistry coalesces before their own writing skill(s).
When Pacific Range begins to jam on”Nothing Else More,” for instance, the connection with the Grateful Dead becomes readily apparent. Yet such improvs, appearing increasingly frequently as the twelve tracks progress, evince laudable patience and precision. Otherwise, the group might well have been mistaken for one of the plethora of country-rock ensembles, like Firefall, that proliferated during the Seventies. None of those ensembles, however, were so inclined to luxuriate in lengthy instrumentals, but then they were not blessed with an agile rhythm section like this one comprised of bassist Cameron Wehrle and drummer Nate Ward.
Smooth lush harmonies (to which vocalists Jade Castrinos, Bek Stanley and Nikki Segal add their voices at certain points) are one of this band’s stocks-in-trade, an attribute that distracts attention from how derivative is some of their original material such as “Heartbeat of Change.” “Studio Walk” is also a little too reminiscent of famous songs such as “China Cat Sunflower,” but when the band moves away from the structure of the song, the point becomes moot, especially as the glowing tones of Stewart Forgey’s keyboards appear. While Horne was an astute choice as producer—and he chips in with pedal steel on both versions of “Guiding The Mast”—he might well have turned a more discerning ear for such all-too-obvious touchpoints.
Nevertheless, he certainly made sure High Upon the Mountain sounded good. When acoustic guitars mix with electrics on “Rainbow Song,” before the entry of some delicate percussion, the audio approaches a 3D quality. That sonic virtue also enhances the crisp definition of terse guitar exchanges between chief composer Seamus Turner and Mapache’s Clay Finch during “Swap Meet.” In contrast, the notable fretboard interlude featuring Duane (son of Dickey) Betts on “Comin’ After You” sounds too much like direct absorption of an Allman Brothers influence, sans much personal imprint from Pacific Range; more acoustic numbers would complement their singing and diversify their sound while stretching out instrumentally more often might also engender multiple ideas for distinctive composition.
Still, while knowledgeable music lovers with eclectic tastes may be overly tempted return to the sources so clearly evoked here (including the Youngbloods and early Marshall Tucker Band), there’s no reason those listeners won’t also savor High Upon The Mountain. And once Pacific Range can plumb a wellspring of their own ideas as densely populated as the busily colorful cover artwork of the LP, they will no doubt end up sounding even more interesting than they already do.