By Al Kaufman
In 2009, Ross Flournoy’s power-pop Southern California band, The Broken West, parted ways. Flournoy moved to Pasadena and developed a strong case of writer’s block. An NPR Monitor Mix competition, in which he was forced to write and record a song in a weekend, led to “Under the Gun,” which, on The Year of Magical Drinking, is a pop gem that sounds like one of the best things Jeff Tweedy and Wilco never recorded. Great drums, cool guitar riffs, and either about songwriting or chastising a friend or girlfriend for giving up on him when he was down. Or maybe both.
Much of Magical Drinking has an upbeat Wilco feel. On other occasions, such as “The Party Line” and “Teenage Blood” (especially “Teenage Blood”) it gets turned up to Replacements levels. It’s ragged, emotional rock ‘n’ roll that feels like equal parts talent and bourbon; like raw torment and unabashed bravado. It feels sincere. But, more importantly, it sounds good.
Flournoy and company (including former members of The Broken West) branch out a bit near the end of the CD. “Holy Roller” is a gorgeous ballad in which Flournoy treats his girlfriend like a god. “You give me cause to deny/That I could live without you,” he sings. “Burn Me Alive,” with it’s woodblock, programming, and attempts at falsetto, which doesn’t work as well, but is interesting in its attempts. “Coming To” ends things on a more mainstream note, but Flournoy puts on his best lounge lizard when purring come-ons such as “I’m coming to a bed near you.”
Flournoy calls Magical Drinking “more honest” than anything he ever did with Broken West. It doesn’t rock as hard, but it has a whole lot more passion, and that’s never a bad thing.