At first glance, John Meeks' name might remind listeners with a background in '60s psychedelia of another name: Joe Meek, space-age pop artist and producer behind The Tornados' surf-rock hit, "Telstar." But the '60s-era artist that Meeks has more of a sonic kinship with is Lee Hazlewood. Like Hazlewood, whose duet with Nancy Sinatra "Some Velvet Morning" is a sort of mind-bending psych-folk classic, Meeks blends rootsy Americana with an ear for acid-laced psychedelia, resulting in something that's as warm and accessible as it is weird, and just a little eerie.
On a Sea Darkly features seven tracks of dusty, lonesome and reverb-addled psych-folk, some of which stretch out and keep on strolling down that darkened road for six or seven minutes at a time. Closing track "Blood Moon," which is an admirably metal/goth name for a track, is the longest of the bunch at 7:15, and it's by no means too long, its spacious strums of effects laden guitar and eerily atmospheric arrangement dropping the listener into a sinister territory of country noir. Not that it doesn't require a certain amount of patience, but it sounds so good that its lack of urgency is by no means an issue.
Meeks' voice, though sometimes rendered hard to decipher due to distortion or other effects, has a tone and timbre that's reminiscent of contemporary alt-folksters like Phosphorescent's Matthew Houck. Yet the ominous and exotic nature of On a Sea Darkly will likely strike a familiar chord to San Diego listeners in particular, as it has a certain stylistic kinship with the best moments of The Black Heart Procession. "The Devil's Road," for instance, has a pulsing surf-goth sound that wouldn't have been out of place on 2002's Amore del Tropico. This is, of course, a good development. It's more of a suggestion than an outright replication, and if anyone's carrying on the shadowy mantle that Black Heart once bore, then that's welcome news to me.
Of the seven tracks on On a Sea Darkly, hardly any of John Meeks' desert-psych songs aren't highlights. It's a foreboding and mysterious album of loose yet well-written songs, best heard in the wee hours of the morning. Were Meeks to attempt a cover of "Some Velvet Morning," however, I wouldn't object.