First Impressions: A Beautiful World by Calista Garcia

It’s an odd thing, music. When the sonic vibrations ricochet down the ear canals, they ignite a chain reaction that floods the brain with dopamine, aka a “feel good” chemical. Though it’s known how it happens, the why is another issue altogether. Different pieces of music affect people in different ways for a variety of factors, from familiarity to stylistic to [fill in the blank]. Some folks get off on electric guitars, thud-thick rhythms and lived-in vocals, after all, while others prefer sick beats and Auto-tuned feats. Hell, a select few actually enjoy the harp! (Just a joke, Mikaela Davis fans.)

To my ears and dopamine-flooded brain, Calista Garcia’s six-track A Beautiful World EP—which will be available on the streaming services next Friday (Oct. 29th)—is everything good about music. It opens with “Deep Blue Diving,” a freewheelin’ Dylanesque number that could well be dubbed “Calista Garcia’s Dream.” It tackles some serious themes with humor, with my favorite moment being this verse: “I just saw a man with his head on the shoulder of his debutante devotee/He was looking across the cafe table making coyote’s eyes at me/So I asked the waiter in the Graceland shirt, ‘Why did I move to Tennessee?’/And he said, ‘Buck up, kid, I have reason to believe you’ll be received.’” (For those not in the know, that’s a sly nod to Paul Simon’s “Graceland.”)

Although the sound isn’t the best, this live rendition is fun:

The song that follows, “My Love, My Love, My Love,” is a hope-imbued vow inspired by the past year and a half. As if the pandemic hasn’t been bad enough, a deluge of bad weather has wreaked havoc across the country, including a tornado that devastated Calista’s adopted hometown of Nashville. In a press release, she says, “I created A Beautiful World to be an expression of radical optimism. Optimism, not because life is full of sunshine and rainbows, but rather in spite of how tough it can be…I think holding knowledge of the bad and still believing good can prevail is the bravest thing we can do.”

The mid-tempo “Half the Time” shuffles along with lyrics that fit the beat, seemingly silly at song’s start but revealing a dark current by the time the chorus hits: She’s treading water. “It keeps eating at me and I’m starting to fray/When you move, your colors start shifting/And you go on and change, but I just stay the same/And a hint of the veil is lifting/Telling me something’s wrong/Something’s wrong and that’s the truth/Don’t you dare look at me with pity when I stick around for you.”

“After You’re Gone.” the lone co-write (with Rachel Weisbart and Patrick Oberstaedt of the Gender Gnomes) of the set, tackles loss and grief—and, though inspired by the COVID Age, applies to the death of any loved one. “The first time I got lost was in November/I didn’t know I missed you till I found your empty chair/I thought of all the times I can’t remember/The times that you were with me, but I didn’t see you there.” Listening to it, I can’t help but to think of my mother-in-law, who we lost in 2019, and my father, who we lost in 2009, and my grandparents and great aunts and uncle, who we lost before then. Loss lingers on, but so does the love.

Like “My Love, My Love, My Love,” “Magnolia Tree” conjures Carole King circa Tapestry. “Life moves like a train,” she observes, “with no conductor, no tracks and no brakes/Life can feel like a game/Where they change the rules every time that you play.” The music swells like waves rolling to shore and Calista lets loose vocally, while an organ and way-cool backing vocals percolate to the surface at just the right moments.

The EP concludes with the title track, in which—like “My Love, My Love, My Love”—she vows to help the discouraged: “And when the wind knocks down your castle walls/Leaving you exposed as the hard rain falls/When you think you’ll wash away, I’ll hold you down.”

Since it came into my life earlier this month, I’ve listened to A Beautiful World more than any other release, new or old. While echoes of the folk rock of the ‘60s and ‘70s can be heard in the grooves, so too do the sounds of such modern folkies as Caroline Spence and Courtney Marie Andrews (among others). What keeps me coming back, however, is the unfettered passion she brings when she sings. These aren’t cookie-cutter songs designed to fit a specific niche, as is often the case, but songs that reflect her heart and soul.

(For more on Calista, visit her website.)

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