Last spring, the Northstar Session released an excellent EP, Winter Collection. Transplanted from San Diego to LA, the trio showed us surprising versatility – playing good, original music with hooks, from crunchy rock to softer pop and folk-influenced tunes. The Session’s latest is Late Bloomer, a full-length disc with more of the same.
The group is Matthew Szlachetka on guitars, Kane McGee on drums, and Dave Basaraba on keyboard and sax. All three sing and write on the new disc, with most of the load carried by Szlatchetka and McGee.
While their sound on the last EP recalled Tom Petty, Late Bloomer shows an expanded palette of pop-rock ideas at work. The level of polish and craft in the ten tunes continues to impress with crisp harmonies, arrangements that enhance the songs, and smooth musicianship.
The title tune opener is a mid-tempo rocker that uses lead vocalist tradeoffs and good keyboards, with sharp background slide guitar echoes molding the melody. The tune is a good start, but seques with no pause into “Where Did You Go?” which is in the same key, similar tempo, and has a chorus that also starts with “Oh, no”– sung exactly the same. “Where” has a superb guitar break by Szlatchetka, but the deliberate sequencing of these two similar tunes (no provided lyrics, but they don’t match up) dilutes the impact of both. “In Time” starts intimately with keyboard and singer, then adds layers of instruments with each verse, enabling a simple and catchy hook that recalls Collective Soul’s better ballads. No deep meaning here, just “In time, you will be mine,” but it rocks and stays with the listener. The smooth approach is dropped for “Turn You Around,” as Szlatchetka is in full voice, and his pre-suck Stones guitar licks stand out over a driving drum pulse as the band takes a step toward Black Crowes territory. For “Change in Me,” the band is in the same vein, singing from the viewpoint of a confused kid soldier caught in the Civil War, with a brother on the other side, “Talking ‘bout our families and seein’ their home towns/ That’s when I knew that blue’s not far from gray.” This tune is delivered to the catchiest guitar melody on the disc, a clear highlight.
“Let You Down” has a totally different vibe; keyboards, strings, mellotron, and synths wash over the vocals in a very unusual but fascinating pop tune. Think the ‘70s hits by Britain’s 10cc. For “Who You Were,” the band mixes strings and fancy keyboards with rock guitars, and the result is a crowded mix that misses the mark. The closer is another ballad, “Need to Know,” and this time less is more: acoustic guitar, cello, and nonintrusive keys let the harmony vocals about yearning for the secret of love come through.
Late Bloomer shows that the Northstar Session continues to be a band able to cover a wide spectrum of musical textures, from pop with indie touches to grinding blues-rockers, and do it all well.