We’re in Santa Barbara for a few days, and I am reminded about how much I like the west–the beauty of the mountains, the vastness of the ocean, the depth of culture. Tonight, Mary Jo and I heard a band called The Excellent Tradesmen at a little bar called Cold Spring Tavern. Not only was the band inspired, but the audience was attentive and friendly, creating an atmosphere that felt very warm and homey to me, even though it was cold and rainy outside.

The Excellent Tradesmen blend the genres of surf music with Johnny Cash with Mexican cantina to create a sound that’s imminently familiar while being just a bit unfamiliar. And it’s not just the choice of songs that make them worth seeing — the band’s arrangement borders on the cosmic. The cornerstone of the sound is Rob’s monstrously proficient and eclectic guitar, heavy on the reverb, demonstrative in the hand and finger movements, flawless in the execution. Round out that guitar with John’s smooth vocals, Ed’s flawless drumwork, Rick’s rock-solid bass, and creative touches like Rob’s accordion and Jerry’s pedal steel and mandolin, and you’ve got a sound that takes you from Hawaii’s surf to the desert southwest. The main singer’s voice is poised and confident with a hint of irony in his delivery, but the high-lonesome harmony from Jerry is what makes the songs really soar. I think I’d prefer the band transpose their songs up about a fourth because the singer’s vocals often drop out of hearing range in the lower registers.

The first set started out strong and never let up, achieving a self-sustaining energy of the type that the Grateful Dead described when they sang that “the music played the band.” From easy two-step dance numbers to wicked surf instrumentals, this set made the tavern simply buzz with energy. The second set had more ups and downs, but also revealed a lot of risk-taking in songwriting and instrumentation, suggesting a mature and growing musical presence.

I would love to hear an entire CD and encourage the Santa Barbara boys to make it happen, or at least put those songs out on GarageBand or the video on YouTube. You’re too good to remain a west coast secret.