Image by Andre Niesing
The ability of music to evoke nostalgia for a specific time in one’s life cannot really be overstated – but the best music should also take you to places you’ve never been.
Visceral troubadour Greg Laswell possesses just such a talent for thought-provoking evocation, painting visual and emotional pictures with his songs that are often like little journeys into more reflective…and thoughtful worlds. This is especially true of his absolutely stunning new album Next Time, released today, just as summer gives way to autumn. The first single, “Royal Empress” (which BlackBook had the privilege of premiering), is perhaps his most widescreen, cinematic creation to date.
To celebrate the new album and the onset of the new season, we asked him to take us on five of his favorite fall drives, which, considering he calls Southern California home, are all located in the Western United States. But perhaps then its just the perfect excuse for Easterners to break the New-England-in-autumn routine for something decidedly more exotic, and…epic.
Most thoughtfully, he also created this sublime playlist to soundtrack those drives – featuring such BlackBook faves as Placebo and Antony & the Johnsons…as well as a striking cover of The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” by London Grammar.
Enjoy the drive.
Seal Beach to Laguna Beach on PCH
This drive weaves you through four Southern California Beach cities, each of which are separated by straightaways along the Pacific Ocean. It’s perhaps the only drive that I prefer *with* traffic; there’s so much to see, ranging from the 60s and 70s motels and store fronts in Seal Beach to the brand new, boardwalk-esque Pacific City, housing restaurants, clothing shops and the Pasea Hotel— all of which overlook Huntington Beach. I could easily recommend 25 restaurants along the 24 mile, 50 minute drive, but the best is the Beachcomber Cafe near the end of the drive at Crystal Cove in Newport Coast. Situated on the sand yards from the ocean, Its not-so-updated diner manner shouldn’t fool you; the 8 oz blue cheese-crusted filet with an Australian lobster tail will run you eighty bucks. However, you can also order The Real Deal Chowder for under 10. Don’t miss the “jars” – one in particular is called the “Big Bad Bloody Mary,” which includes a crab claw and jumbo shrimp. You can also rent a bonfire if you’d like to sit closer to the water after dinner; after all, fall bonfires are kind of a thing.
Flagstaff to Sedona, AZ, 89A
Having recorded two records there, Flagstaff holds a special place in my heart. At seven thousand feet elevation and year-round green pine trees it is unlike anything else in Arizona – as is Sedona, with its red dirt and sandstone formations that have been chiseled by the wind for centuries. The drive on the switchback 89A is perhaps the most beautiful part of both towns. (Especially in the fall, with the windows down, and the music blaring.) At just under 30 miles, its winding roads demand lower speeds, so leave yourself an hour and a half. The first time I drove it, I felt like I was in a luxury car commercial; each turn is more stunning that the last, with creeks and trees that sometimes block out the sky. Once you arrive in Sedona, head to the latin-inspired Mariposa for dinner. Honestly, with the panoramic views of the otherworldly desert landscape and color wheel sunsets, they could serve me a scoop of rice and I’d be happy. But the food is equally incredible. Try Lisa’s Favorite Chopped Salad (I’m not kidding, it has onions rings and sharp cheddar in it). Add bacon and imported gorgonzola, too. It’s not fancy, but it’s not cheap, either.
Big Sur to San Simeon, Highway 1
Listen, just Google this drive and look at the map.
Are you back?
So, there’s that… What a topical map won’t show you is this drive’s many undulations. Sometimes it gets so high that you are above the marine layer and you swear you’re on a plane – on account that you can’t see anything beyond the right edge of the road you’re on (besides the sea). The word ‘breathtaking’ annoys me. This drive is breathtaking. It clocks in at around two hours, more if you stop at the various turnouts along the way – which I suggest because you can get awfully close to seals just hanging out on the beach at a few of them. It’s worth noting that it’s an incredible drive to soundtrack, as well. Once you get to San Simeon, just below the Hearst Castle, is a place called Sebastion’s, a self-declared “Chill burger and wine bar with patio seats,” which, it is. Built in 1852 by a whaler, I’m honestly not sure much has been changed. It’s accompanying general store and wine tasting room are as quaint as it gets. This place is heavy on the sandwiches and burgers…but my vegetarian friends can get a black bean and mushroom burger that, incidentally, happens to be my favorite thing on the menu. It’s inexpensive, so what you don’t spend on your meal, you can spend on one of their t-shirts.
Phoenix to Jerome through Prescott
Sorry-not-sorry for the Arizona double dip, it just worked out that way. Also, for this one, I’m going to talk about two restaurants since the drive is three hours. It’s been said that “California has its beaches, Arizona has its skies.” Actually, I just said it. The sky always looks big, but the sky on this drive feels big. And its colors, particularly during early fall, seemingly don’t know their limits. Once you cut across to Prescott Valley, try not to sing “the hills are alive with the sound of music” to your driving companion(s). As for the restaurants, you’ll need to start the drive after a meal at the Rokerij on 16th in Phoenix. Go to the basement; if you’re lucky, you can sit in front of the fireplace on the leather chairs. They have things like bacon-wrapped shrimp and cheese-stuffed jalapeños, but one of my favorites is the Pasta Heidi, and since I’m telling you what to do, I suggest swapping out the chicken for shrimp. And listen, I don’t know what they put in the sauce, but I could drink it straight. (That’s gross.) My other favorite dish is the carne adovada, I order it “Christmas style,” which is red and green sauce. The place has a dark-vibe, an indie crowd…I can’t recommend it enough.
Meanwhile, cut to three hours later, you arrive in Jerome, an old (some say haunted) mining town that is literally sliding down the hill it sits on. Maynard from Tool has his winery there (true story), and the store front (Caduceus) is near the middle of Main Street. If you’re so inclined, get wine-y and cheese-y before heading to Haunted Hamburger up the hill. Their twice baked potato is worth the drive. It’s also a great place to go if you like the staff having as good as a time as you are, if not more.
I like things with dramatic names, and Guardman’s Pass is decisively apropos. At one point (the top one) it lifts up to almost 10 thousand feet elevation, giving you a view in every direction. During the height of fall, the oranges and yellows of the leaves still on trees look like they came out of a Crayola crayon box – the one with just eight in them. There are parts of this drive that are not paved, but you can still make it in a Toyota Corolla. There is a restaurant in the belly of the five-star Montage resort in Deer Valley called Burgers and Bourbon. Its menu is one of the more enjoyable reads. Ever. It says things like, Trio of Fries, and there’s something called the Lux, which is a burger with foie gras, truffle cheese, bourbon onions and arugula. That one is at the top of the pile at $32. The rest of the menu is much more considerate of your travel budget. They are locally known for their hand-spun milkshakes, so bold-face lie to your diet app and order the S’mores Shake. (You’re welcome.) Seriously, it’s so good it should have its own website.