By: Steve Hochman
OK, you’re a music act that a couple of decades ago had a sound all your own, a compellingly moody minimalism distinct to the point that your name was virtually a genre unto itself. But then you went away for a long time, and in the intervening years many others took up your approach, or at least followed tangents suggested by it. And now you come back to find that what was once an open field is a very crowded landscape. What do you do?
If you’re the Los Angeles duo Mazzy Star, with “Seasons of Your Day,” your first album in 17 years, you set out to reclaim that territory. All of it.
Today there stand a couple of generations of music, brooding introspection, blues-country revisionism, dreamy pop and sprightly freak-folk -- all making the most of the least in a way that can be called, in some measure, Mazzy-esque.
On this album, singer Hope Sandoval and guitarist David Roback take us on a tour of the world they created, the originators marking it as theirs. As the nicely hazy song “California” makes, uh, clear, it’s a new round of California dreamin’. There’s still atmosphere and ambience aplenty, and with them the alluring mystique of the Mazzy heyday.
But there’s nothing coy here — well, aside from Sandoval’s guardedly gauzy delivery and refusal to share her lyrics in print. Even at their sparest, as in this song, Sandoval and Roback are still playing in the shadows, but not hiding in them.
They’re also adding some new colors to the shadows, such as the strings on the title song. And “Spoon,” a guitar duet with English folk legend Bert Jansch, recorded shortly before he died in 2011, delightfully weaves his fingerpicked patterns through Roback’s wiry slide.
Mostly, though, the new, if nuanced, directions come from Roback and Sandoval. Each has developed a wide and complex range of shadings to their art, Sandoval sighing, pouting or simply singing, and Roback moving between touches airily light to robustly bluesy. The latter comes to the fore as Mazzy Star evokes a classic touchstone on “Flying Low,” an extended psychedelic excursion that, with its reedy harmonica, reminds one of the Rolling Stones’ ‘60s jam, “Going Home.”
The album also starts and ends with examples of classic, even Dylanesque, songwriting, the opening “In the Kingdom” and the closing “Lay Myself Down.” As the journey concludes, Sandoval’s coo is matched by pedal-steel sighs, the melody soaring and darting somewhere over the Nashville skyline — or Joshua Tree. And that’s a distinctive, compelling geography that’s not Mazzy-esque. It’s Mazzy Star.