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California Dreamin’ in Liverpool: Motel Sundown’s Enchanting EP ‘El Dorado’

Combining the talents of Naomi Campbell, Karen Turley and Robert Johnson, Motel Sundown are Liverpool’s answer to every Laurel Canyon act you’ve ever loved. Their first album If You Were Listening glittered with influences from Fairport Convention to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – all delivered with the poise of a band who’ve firmly earned their stripes on Liverpool’s live scene. But it’s the pull of California which takes hold in El Dorado, an EP recorded from the Motor Museum studios they call home. 

Though none of the band are from here originally – Johnson is from London while both Campbell and Turley grew up in Co. Tyrone – Liverpool is where they first bonded over a shared folk-rock appreciation in 2018. Since then they’ve weathered various periods of separation (lockdown), crowded pub basements (post-lockdown), and more recent coups like being crowned the best emerging act of the 2023 Black Deer Festival of Americana.

El Dorado sees them knit together various musical textures, from the percussive interludes of Your House, to the deftly fingerpicked guitar and impeccable three-part harmonies which flow through all five songs. The EP’s eponymous track feels like a nod to the Eagles’ Hotel California, with reverb-drenched, warbling guitars inducing the sense of a vast, unfathomable landscape, while Waterfall places Turley’s vocal front and centre, a yearning attempt to make sense of a lover’s absence. Then hot on its heels comes Lost Time almost as a corrective; upping the woozy, waltzing tempo to a rattling bluegrass rhythm, its lyrics spelling out goodbye in no uncertain terms. 

Each of the trio are seasoned musicians in their own right, with Campbell having recently put out her own string of singles. But as dedicated Laurel Canyon scholars, the three share a musical bloodline which filters into every composition, whether delicately swooning folk melodies or crunchier rock offerings along the lines of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain. It’s a well-trodden path, but one they weave through seamlessly, making hallmarks of Americana sound earthy and homegrown, as if the desert’s roaring highways had been airlifted to the heart of Aigburth. 

Motel Sundown – Waterfall (Live at Elevator Studios)

Midnight Blue elegantly closes out the record, with a vocal as emotive yet restrained as Karen Carpenter’s, simmering into dense layers of instrumentation, weighty pauses and perhaps even a note of warning – do those “orange skies” hint at the romance of a velvety sunset, or to a planet on the brink of collapse? The world Motel Sundown inhabit is vastly different to the one sung about by their heroes, and it’ll be interesting to see how they imbue their material with a lived reality far from the jacarandas and eucalyptus groves of West Hollywood. 

Back in April, the band played to a packed Philharmonic music room, where a sea of necks craned out from each corner and every hastily assembled extra chair. Seeing them perform such an expansive, large-scale set made the night feel strangely like a career retrospective; the roulette of instruments building towards various crescendoes, the three heads bent together in concentration as their combined voice rippled through the rafters. It’s hard to believe El Dorado only marks the band’s second release, but forging their own trail through such time-honoured influences is probably a surefire way to stumble onto gold. 

Stream El Dorado now.

Follow Motel Sundown on FacebookInstagram and via their website for updates.

Orla Foster


Founder and Editor, Clare Deane, shares her passion for all the amazing things happening in Liverpool. With a love of the local Liverpool music scene, dining out a couple of times a week and immersing herself in to all things arts and culture she's in a pretty good place to create some Liverpool Noise.

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