“California Smile” by Singer/Songwriter Tom Tikka

Tom Tikka and Star Prairie Project’s Nolen Chew Jr. pair up for a songwriting gem entitled “California Smile”, and it’s the perfect song for sweeping away any lingering winter chill. Tikka is one of the music world’s best-kept open secrets as a songwriter, and recent releases such as Rainbows and Dead Flowers attest to his broad range of talents. His new song co-written with Chew Jr. and Elina Suominen further solidifies his claim to being one of the foremost purveyors of airy Americana-tinged pop working today. However, “California Smile” is far from disposable, no matter its pop inclinations, and a single listen won’t be enough as you’ll find yourself irresistibly pulled back into its redemptive glow.

There’s no doubt that this is a feel-good number. “California Smile” mixes a little hard-won wisdom into its lyrical perspective that never interferes with that positivity. It sounds like part and parcel of the same appealing package. We, as listeners, aren’t going to be convinced by a Pollyanna point of view that only acknowledges the good in life while neglecting the detours we take along the way. This sort of mature songwriting vision helps Tikka stand out from scores of peers and contemporaries.

The class musical arrangement is another aspect that helps him rise above the commonplace. The musicians supply able accompaniment from the first note through the last, and the guitar work, in particular, answers the urgency of Tikka’s voice with verve and just the right amount of fire. Superb drumming is another strong suit of the performance. It’s straightforward, nothing fancy, and anchors the arrangement’s upbeat tempo with physicality.

Direct and conversational lyrics give “California Smile” the feeling of an off-the-cuff confession. Tikka’s songwriting embraces autobiographical leanings, never so personal that they are rendered obscure, and his ability to connect the personal with the universal is a hallmark great songwriters share. The great structure distinguishes the song as well. “California Smile” builds classically and inevitably and unfolds in a satisfyingly predictable way. You know what’s coming, you’ve heard it before, but Tikka and his cohorts deliver it with immense skill and panache.

The accompanying music video hits the spot as well. The assorted images of Southern California life, romance, and Tikka’s presence coalesce into a winning promotional clip that’s warm and unassuming. It provides a polished and well-turned exclamation point as a companion piece for the song and communicates the track’s sentiments in a thoughtful manner

Tikka and his band The Missing Hubcaps benefit a great deal from the Star Prairie Project’s featured presence. It’s their home turf, however, and the relaxed confidence present throughout the song helps ingratiate it with listeners early. It is all but impossible to not like this song. It continues a winning streak for Tikka and shows that his fecund creativity shows no signs of slowing down. Some artists write and record music as natural as breathing, and we can count Tom Tikka among their number. “California Smile” gives us all of the evidence that we need.

Trace Whittaker