Goodnight, San Francisco
The chain of events leading up to Goodnight, San Francisco reads like a fairytale. Meyers and Prater discovered their musical kinship in the Bay area after college. The manager of a teenaged musician Meyers was tutoring got the Bittersweets' demo into the hands of taste-making San Francisco station KFOG, and KFOG's instant embrace of the Bittersweets built so much buzz that 200 people came out for their very first show, on Superbowl Sunday, no less. By only their third performance, the head of Virt Records was flying in to see them, and their first record deal soon followed. When the band arrived in Nashville two years later, Compass Records was ready to sign them the moment they breathed a word about starting a new album.
Goodnight, San Francisco flows seamlessly through eleven gorgeous mood pieces. Lex Price (Mindy Smith producer and sideman) lent his delicate producing touch, and brought in a perfectly sympathetic team of players: steel guitarist Russ Pahl (Don Williams), bassist Dave Jacques (John Prine), drummer Steve Bowman (Counting Crows), guitarist Doug Lancio (Patty Griffin), cellist David Henry (Ben Folds), organ player John Deaderick (Emmylou Harris) and others. GRAMMY Award winner Jason Lehning (Guster) also lent his mixing and playing abilities to the project.
Goodnight marks the end of the Bittersweets' season in San Francisco and the beginning of a new one in Nashville with a leaner lineup (the Bittersweets recorded The Life You Always Wanted as a quintet). "Basically we were all going through various personal struggles the last year we were there, even as a band," says Meyers. "One of the band members went to law school and another one had a baby - both of which are wonderful things." But that meant shifting from their five-person lineup which included bassist Daniel Schacht and multi-instrumentalist Jerry Becker into a duo, a change that's ultimately made the Bittersweets even more versatile.
The album's title track, a slow-burning R&B ballad, captures the bruising and beauty of embarking on a new journey as no one but the Bittersweets can. It eases in with piano and Prater's breathy lilting and swells into a full-band catharsis, stoked by B-3 organ and an eruptive guitar solo. The lyrics move between past and future, pain and hope: "Goodnight all you dreamers / Goodnight all you refugees of hope / Get on home, it’s getting real late / And time stands like a chorus calling my name out loud / from behind the curtain / The voices in my head say, ˜You’re gonna be a rock and roll star, someday.'"
The fine-grained meditation "When the War Is Over" is another song that captures the uncertainty of change with devastating accuracy, picking up the story after the leap's already been taken. Like many of the songs on Goodnight, there's a question ringing at its core: "When the war is over/is it ever over?"
Just like dusk, the Bittersweets' songs have a stirring, not-neatly-sewn-up quality that's hard to shake. And that's just the point. Says Meyers, "I think art is at its best when it's asking questions rather than giving answers."