Happy to Be Here

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Remember when beautifully orchestrated, well-crafted pop confections ruled the '60s' AM-radio airwaves? When sunny songs from artists like the Turtles, the Cowsills, and the Beach Boys sang out with carefree joy? Andrew Sandoval remembers and reacquaints listeners with those delicious sounds on his second full-length disc, Happy to Be Here. As a musical archivist, Sandoval has had the opportunity to hear and absorb the art of creating a true piece of pop music. His influences are apparent, yet he does not simply soak in them and then squeeze them out into a pale imitation; Andrew is able to hone them into a distinct, retro-'60s sound while remaining fresh and original. With the jangle of its guitar opening and light harmonies, the first track, "I Wish You Would," could comfortably appear on any Matthew Sweet album, yet it is the next track, "Allyn White," where the time-tripping begins. With quietly soaring strings, the sudden 1-2-3-4 beat of snare, and "bop-ba-da" vocals, listeners are transported to a place where they can join the lucky few who still love "The Rain, the Park, and Other Things." On the track "He Can Fly," Sandoval validates his sound even further with a guest appearance by Tom Dawes from the '60s group the Cyrkle ("Red Rubber Ball"). Musically referencing icons such as Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Electric Light Orchestra, and the Beach Boys, the song veers happily from a tinkling harmonium to a harmony vocal section that would make Brian Wilson Smile. The collection's only cover song is a nifty remake of Dion & the Wanderers' "Now," a lost gem that snuggly fits in the mix as if Sandoval was the writer, once again proving his grasp of the genre. A solo French horn and a lonely organ (an instrument woefully underused) carry "Tears Away" through its melancholy melody, leading perfectly to the disc's best track, "Friend of Mine." With its reflection on fading relationships, "Friend of Mine" sets the example that sunshine pop can be thoughtful and fun. Though he will not win any vocal awards, Andrew's thin but gentle tones resonate well within the musical context of these songs. Unfortunately, throughout all of these lovingly crafted songs, the one element lacking is that of a strong, memorable melody. While they are a breath of fresh air, the songs tend to slip away with the breeze and do not hang around for long. With a song like the Left Banke's "Walk Away Renee," it only takes a couple of spins to get that song embedded in a listener's mind, and if Andrew would push his writing toward this level, he would be closer to crafting the true pop masterpiece that he is capable of creating. Yet, this should not deter anyone from enjoying this collection. In a time where rock songs are overwhelmed with bombastic strings and lung-busting singers, Happy to Be Here hearkens back to a time when songs were well-written, subtly orchestrated, and a pleasure to hear. Andrew wears his influences well -- he is not ashamed to show them off, and listeners are lucky they are invited to his retro-fashion show.

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