After recording their debut album The Little Pacific, Greater California played a load of shows in California, opening for notable acts such as Calexico, Papa M, and The Kingsbury Max. About the time they were getting ready to start work on their second album, they acquired a Wurlitzer electric piano and were so enthralled by the sound of the instrument that they set out creating an entire album around it.
Upping the ante a bit, the group decided to only record the parts of Somber Wurlitzer between the hours of midnight and five in the morning, and the result is a slightly woozy sounding album that lingers with the haze of staying up into the wee hours of the day. Musically, the group recalls warm 60's-style pop music, working with a unique palette of instrumentation while keeping a definite feeling of efficiency (ten tracks run by in under 40 minutes) that helps things out by not lingering for too long on a single idea.
Album opener of "The Appearing" leads things off with one of the best tracks on the entire release as the opening half shuffles along through an almost sleepwalking section highlighted by the whispered vocals of singer Terry Prine. About two-thirds of the way through the track, it changes course and brightens just slightly, taking on a slight waltzing feel. "Missing Summer" steps things up considerably with a much more jaunty melodic passage on the Wurlitzer and breathy backing vocals that give away the groups southern California roots.
Despite the album title, the album isn't an overly somber affair, and it's more content to shuffle along with touches of psychedelic pop. "May Day" bounces along with a stripped-down, jaunty piano melody while "Portuguese Hall" brings a little cha-cha into the mix as the familiar hum of organs and electric piano keep things surprisingly deft behind "ba-ba" vocals. The album-titled track of "Somber Wurlitzer," which closes the album, retreats back to the shadows slightly, stacking multiple layers of breathy vocals and electric piano under a soft bed of tape hiss. While there is a decent amount of variety on the concise release, there's also not a huge amount of dynamics, and it's because of this that some of the middle section on the album blurs together a bit. Somber Wurlitzer is still an enjoyable, airy pop album with a bit of a throwback feel, but it could have benefited from a slight bit more edge.