I met California King back in 2008, when they were just out of the gate. They were, like a lot of bands just starting out, tentative in their performance. That said, they clearly had a lot of potential, which is why they made it onto the Boldaslove.us compilation album with their track “On Planet Earth,” which was taken from their debut album, Adoration of the Boogie Bear.

Fast-forward to 2010, and on their new album, La Belle Epoque, it’s clear that they’ve come a long way. They’re still kicking out strong, well-written songs channeled through lead singer Mike Mills’ yearning vocals. What’s different now is the noticeable fire that propels their songs. And, on top of it all, it sounds like they’re having fun!

From jump, the trio, made up of Mills, Yohann Potico on bass and Howard Alper on drums, sets an infectious energy level with “Solar Nights” and maintains it through “Come to Me and Stay” and “Brutal Minds,” which closes the first quarter of the album.

“Homicide” is a well-placed ballad that gives the listener a bit of a break by creating more musical space than is present when the trio is going in hard on a song. There’s something about the mood of “Higher Plane” that reminds me of “Higher Purpose,” a song Nona Hendryx contributed to the sound track of the Showtime series Sleeper Cell. Both songs do a great job evoking the spiritual. And, in something of a departure from the trio setup, a Junior Walker-style saxophone joins the bar rocker “Bobby Burns.”

It’s clear the band has a good recipe working: First, there are the smart lyrics — such as this line from “Lingering”: “The winter left you cold/Cuz the fall opened up your nose/It was over and done by Christmas Eve.” Second, the trio is tight; two years of gigging proves there’s no shortcutting the process of learning to work together as a unit.

California King do themselves proud, and here’s hoping that for this band, the new year turns out to be a beautiful era, indeed.

This review originally appeared on TheRoot.com on December 2, 2010.

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