”There’s something particularly important to me there,” says Peter Mercado cryptically about the small town Wrightwood in the mountains of San Bernardino County in Southern California. He’s chosen that locale’s name as the title to his latest solo effort, a collection of songs that embody the soul of an artist who is re-acclimating himself to the world of music after a prolonged absence. But despite the small town moniker, Wrightwood’s songs are in no way provincial in their appeal. They capture a universal yearning that threads through the best of modern-day singer-songwriters and reaches back to the earliest traveling bards whose songs mesmerized audiences in innumerable locales. Wrightwood reflects, with an uncanny prescience, the hopes and sorrows of the listener who has experienced the volatilities of love and life – a talent that’s essential in creating (so-called) timeless music. But lest that sensibility may sound a bit too heady, the songs’ sentiments are discreetly wrapped in melodies of unearthly beauty that at once disarm and invite you into their world.
Peter Mercado spent the formative years of his life in the farmlands of the Coachella Valley, witnessing Cesar Chavez-led labor rallies and coping with the loneliness of a child growing up in a working class family where the adults spent long hours away on the job. It was that loneliness that prompted Peter to pen his first song, “Latchkey Kid”, while still in high school. After graduation and a stint in the Navy, where he honed his guitar playing skills, Peter drifted through numerous bands based in the Inland Empire and San Bernardino County. It was only in the 2000s that he began making headway with his music. Foremost was with the band Awestruck Dumbfounded, which enjoyed a place on Shmat Records’ roster, a label long beloved by indie musicians throughout Southern California. During this time, Peter also began a friendship and working relationship with Andrew Lynch, a singer-songwriter and audio engineer who would play a pivotal role is bringing Wrightwood’s songs to life. But then in 2007, Peter suddenly walked away from writing and performing music and chose to concentrate his efforts on domestic concerns. His sabbatical wouldn’t last long. By 2009, Peter turned back to music to cope with the emotional fallout of his attempt at marriage. The resulting rough demos, the product of countless late nights recording in the quiet of his apartment, would become the backbone of Wrightwood’s repertoire.
With the encouragement of friends and family, Peter brought his demos into the studio with Andrew Lynch, who helped focus and refine their raw energy into re-recorded songs that exude an understated sense of power while still possessing a fragile beauty. Witness the magnetism of a song like “4am”, with its forthright lyrics and irresistible melody, carefully complemented by discreet instrumentation and unburdened by any sense of overproduction. That song, along with nine others, will be imminently released as an album. Each track emanates with a sense of unassuming and powerfully effective craftsmanship, and the remarkable chemistry between Mercado, Lynch, and the participating session musicians is palpable throughout the recordings.
There’s very little of the cerebral in Wrightwood. This isn’t math rock, prog rock or art rock. Instead, the songs spring from the heart, which give them an instant accessibility and feel a lot like entering a familiar room after being away for long time. Hopefully, Peter will keep that room open to us for many years to come.