Melody Walker describes her music as “Americali,” meaning that it draws influences not only from Americana, but from rock, blues, Afrobeat, and many other influences. Gold Rush Goddess is Melody Walker’s debut album, but it oozes experience and polish. From the song order, to the cover art, Melody Walker has produced a timeless album that draws influences from different genres without being alienating.
The title track transports you to a great Americana aesthetic that becomes the base for the rest of the album. It sets up a very dedicated production style that isn’t overproduced; rather the tracks come off as organic and true to Walker’s nature. The title track also showcases the beautiful lilt in Walker’s voice. Considering that she did the backing vocals, Walker has created music that fits her voice perfectly. Walker’s vocals match the hope in songs like “Stars Align” and the anguish in songs like “Get Back.”
Lyrically the songs have a timeless feel, almost a throwback to a former generation. Even singing about working two jobs in “Do What You Love Blues” or making your own decisions in “Get Back” could have been sung 50 years ago and still been pertinent to any generation. Even though “Black Grace” is accentuated by great instrumental backing, it surprisingly doesn’t have a lot of lyrics, but that lack of lyrics isn’t a problem. It instead emphasizes the concept of planets and the sky beautifully. Its simplicity is its strength.
When I originally listened to “Family Band” I pictured a great bluegrass band, with Jacob Groopman’s voice channeling his Blue Ridge Mountain background. The song had the right balance between verses, giving the listener the opportunity to appreciate each banjo pluck or guitar strum. To match the almost choral sound of “Family Band,” I appreciated the a cappella opening of “Do What You Love Blues.” The tempo of that song changes immediately but maintains the call-and-response. The guitar solo in the track was also wonderful.
While Walker can do upbeat songs, I thought “Stars Align” was a great showcase of her full voice. Her father should be proud of this rendition of the song that he wrote. She channeled the spirit of the song as if it was her own. The track is one of the more simplistic in arrangement, but equally as moving as the other tracks. Similarly, “Not Today” has vocal prowess. When the song pauses before Walker sings, “Looks like the world’s not gonna end at all,” it leaves you on the edge of your toes, fully invested in what Walker has to say. Nearing the end of the album, “Martinez” was an interesting shift of pace. The jingles were a creative choice of percussion and the lyrics helped it stand out from the rest of the album.
Even though Gold Rush Goddess has an Americana spirit, I loved the irony of “Gotta Write Love Songs.” The song laments that love songs are needed in order for mainstream channels to have something to play, yet her singing about love songs would actually be perfect for Top 40 radio. Walker’s vocals match the styles of Sara Bareilles or Colbie Callait.
There is only one cover song on the album, the final track “Dreaming,” originally by Blondie. While the original has a driving drum and upbeat spirit, Walker takes a creative twist as she slows down the song and puts it in her vocal range. Instead of a higher, Debbie Harry-like quality, she brings her own heft and soul into the song making it her own.
Although the album is credited to Melody Walker, one should note the amazing contributions of Jacob Groopman, her partner from the band Front Country. These contributions range from his guitar skills in “Gold Rush Goddess” to his slide guitar work in “Get Back.” I loved his tenor banjo solo in “Not Today” and all of his backing vocals are a great touch. The two clearly work wonderfully together.
One part of the album that may be ignored is it’s whimsical art style. The album cover has a very colorful feel to it. I loved the CD sleeve that had the sheet music for “Family Band.” With limited guitar skill, I could play the four chords. The interactivity was refreshing, allowing me to be part of the family band, singing along with Walker and Groopman. This made the ending to the song even more effective than listening to the track passively.
Listening to Gold Rush Goddess was a joy. From its impeccable production values to its poignant lyrics, the whole album is a home run. I would strongly suggest getting the whole album, but if I had to suggest single tracks, “Family Band” and “Gotta Write Love Songs” are catchy songs. The title track is a great introduction to the style and construction of the whole album.