Photo by Sarah Stanick
When I came across the debut record from Santa Monica songwriter John Clinebell, my mind took a 10-year leap back in time.
While Stomping Grounds, released in 2008 by SP&G Records, is his first solo album, I'd seen Clinebell perform probably a dozen times or more with his college band, Tricky Luz.
I first came across the group at a coffee shop open mic night, when Clinebell and guitarist Josh Watts had hooked up with my friend Aaron on the upright bass.
The Tricky Luz sound was in the vein of Dave Matthews and Paul Simon, but the lyrics grabbed me from the start. Poetic and thoughtful, they weren't the average coffee shop fare, and the band soon built a pretty good following in Tucson.
I'm not sure when the band split up, but they played regularly for at least a couple years, putting out a demo EP and a full-length, self-released album, Honeyblood.
Skip several years ahead and I find Clinebell's solo release, and I couldn't have been more curious about what became of the old Tricky Luz singer (my old dorm pal Aaron Hubbard now plays with Driving East, a quickly rising D.C.-area punk band).
Stomping Grounds easily surpasses the bar I guessed was set by a decade of practice and growth. Clinebell has settled into a Southern California sound, crafting great laid-back rock music around an incredibly melodic core. Think of the space somewhere in between Jack Johnson, Counting Crows , R.E.M. and Jackson Browne.
Stomping Grounds' opener, "Yellow Valentines," is an up-tempo, head-bobbing song, sounding like one of those singles that catches on like wildfire during the summer, invading every radio format there is, netting new listeners every day.
My favorite song is "Hard Love," with its "Could've burned brighter" opening line riding along a bed of fuzzy guitars and a thumping rhythm. It's another single-in-waiting, catchy as all hell, with a chorus both soaring and wistful.
Stomping Grounds spans from rockers to sun-soaked acoustic ballads, like "The End," which sounds like a Southern California version of Damien Rice.
Clinebell has a Feb. 6 show, opening for Dave Matthews collaborator Tim Reynolds, at Brixton South Bay in Redondo Beach.
Check out Clinebell on YouTube, where he's posted a series of both original songs and covers.
John Clinebell - Hard Love
John Clinebell - Yellow Valentines
Tricky Luz - Trace