June 2, 2013 by Jay Minkin
Ding! Ding! Round 2 of new records showing up in my mailbox is about a debut album that knocked my socks off as soon as it began playing. The Nashville based Escondido is the collaborative effort of Jessica Maros and Tyler James who released their debut record The Ghost of Escondido at the end of February.
The pair met while James was recording a mutual friend of theirs at his home studio. While everyone was mixing drinks in the kitchen, Maros was strumming a song she penned called “Rodeo Queen” in the other room. James’s ear perked up and returned to the studio, pushed the record button, and joined her adding accompaniment. He tapped into a sound that Maros had only dreamed to create but could never find anyone that got it. Later that evening, the two revisited the recording and were so thrilled with the results that they decided to make a record together.
Although she migrated to Nashville because of a record deal, Maros found success designing jewelry and handmade dresses that have been worn by the starlets who graced the red carpet at the Oscars and CMA awards. James was a member of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros and longed to focus on staying in town making records than constantly being out on the road touring. Each of them brought unrecorded material to the table and worked out songs over the next two months while listening to Ennio Morricone spaghetti western records every morning.
The end results were magic. Cut entirely in one evening at The Casino, the pair enlisted friends Evan Hutchings (drums) and Adam Keafer (bass) to mix with rhythm guitar, trumpet, and keyboard fills by James. The sultry, sensual voice of Maros is out front with the fabulous western twang from lead guitar slinger Scotty Murray that gives the music an edge of darkness and vulnerability. “We wanted to do it quick so we could capture the moment and not second guess ourselves” explains James. “The record is about the end of a long relationship. The lyrics are heavy and about Jessica’s struggle with love and past relationships.” Maros adds “The record was an outlet for me. Each song brings back where I was and what I drank when I was writing them. I didn’t want to be in the background anymore. I realized I had something to say too so thus came Escondido!”
It took almost a year and a half for the first Escondido album to be released by the artists. “It took a while to release the record cause Tyler and I released it ourselves” says Maros. “We were taking the time to meet the right people to help us from PR to radio to licensing, etc. I’m really glad we waited ‘cause without them we wouldn’t be doing this! Also, it took a while to save the money. We have been self-managing and so I’m really proud to see everything come together in an organic way.” So at a time when many artists are using Pledge or Kickstarter to fund their projects, The Ghost of Escondido is not only a labor of love, but an amazing example of perseverance.
“Evil Girls” begins the album’s journey with this gorgeous opening trumpet from James playing the instrumental hook heard later in the chorus with Maro’s captivating voice. The motorcycle engine revs up with “Bad Without You” and blends right into the pop infused single “Cold October”. The tempo slows down as the pain and numbness takes over with a pair of beautiful ballads “Willow Tree” and “Special Enough”. The twang of “Please Don’t Love Me Too Much” will have you back on your feet dancing on the tabletops just as “Keep Walkin’” is a nastier version of something Nancy Sinatra may have dreamed about singing in a different era. The album closes out with the slow dance number “Chase The Moon” that shows a more tender side to Maro’s vocals.
Although as a listener I hear remnants of Hope Sandoval, Jenny Lewis, Jessica Lea Mayfield, Neko Case, Elizabeth Cook, and even Debbie Harry throughout the entire record, the delivery from Maros is genuine and unique. It’s what makes Escondido that alt-country Americana outfit forging their own distinct path through a painted desert in period cowboy costume which can be seen in their crossover video for “Black Roses”.
Escondido will be on tour this summer opening for Lord Huron whom was featured in Minkin’s Music back in February with their debut release Lonesome Dreams. If this double-feature makes its way to your town, I highly recommend you fit it into your busy summer schedule.