Published Jan 15, 2016Laurel Canyon's musical shadow looms large; in the late '60s and early '70s, the neighbourhood in Los Angeles's Hollywood Hills was a haven for singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell, the members of CSNY, Carole King, James Taylor and legions of others. Half-a-century later, a handful of California dreamin' songwriters harkened back strongly to that time's sound and aesthetic.
The sparse, hushed songs on L.A. songwriter Jessica Pratt's breakthrough, On Your Own Love Again, recalls the delicately plucked songs of Joni Mitchell's Ladies of the Canyon or Blue, all finger-scrapes, soothing melodies and Pratt's unique, wistful alto.
Richmond, Virginia songwriter Natalie Prass might not have much to do with California, but her self-titled debut sported all the orchestral-folk splendour of Linda Ronstadt's early '70s output. Spacebomb Records founder Matthew E. White, whose lavish Fresh Blood also fits this list, co-produced.
Father John Misty
Father John Misty's I Love You Honeybear was bombastic, sure, but behind the stomping piano chords and unbuttoned bravado were lyrics that mined self-hatred, the mysteries of love and the emptiness of modern life, all with the L.A. transplant's incisive dark humour. If it reminded you of Graham Nash's similarly swaggering-yet-sensitive Songs For Beginners, you aren't alone.
Tobias Jesso Jr.
Masterful songwriter Tobias Jesso Jr.'s transformation from backing player to L.A. troubadour was complete this year with the release of Goon, a piano and guitar collection indebted to the simple yet consummately melodic songs of early '70s Paul McCartney and Neil Young.
The harp-based songs and orchestral arrangements of California born-and-raised songwriter Joanna Newsom's work have mostly set her apart from the simpler sound of the early '70s, but on parts of her (relatively) scaled-back Divers — "Waltz of the 101st Lightborne" and the traditional song "Same Old Man," especially — she evokes the folksier aspects of the Laurel Canyon sound.
On his 2015 mini-LP Another One, Mac DeMarco finally completed his transformation from fun loving slack-rocker to Harry Nilsson-esque songwriting extraordinaire. Sweet one moment, sleazy the next, DeMarco's whimsical songwriting showed a marked improvement this year without losing its breezy charm.