Wednesday, October 21, 2009

THE Cult Band of Our Time

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: Spellbound
ALBUM: Legend

We've been together longer than any of our marriages.
(Paul Cotton)

Jethro Burns once quoted his father as saying of Homer and Jethro's early career, "You boys are about as unlucky as a one-legged man at an ass-kicking contest." Looking at the long career of Poco, one can only wonder if a member's father made that assessment of them as well. Poco was the pioneering band of the genre that would become known as "country-rock" in the late 60s and early 70s, forming before Gram Parsons joined the Byrds and made the landmark Sweetheart of the Rodeo album, and singing "there's just a little bit of magic in the country music we're singing" long before the Eagles even dreamed of takin' it easy -- or had even moved to California. The Eagles eventually became the epitome of "country-rock" and in the process acquired both their bassists from Poco (Randy Meisner played bass on Poco's first album but left before the album artwork was done, relegating his mention to a footnote in the credits) while enjoying a hall of fame career
. Meanwhile, Poco put out album after album of great music, most of which sold a tiny fraction of the Eagles' records.

Ironically, after spending most of the 1970s in the shadows of the far more successful (and lyrically cynical) Eagles, it was the long hiatus that the Eagles took after the monstrous success of Hotel California -- and the departure of Timothy Schmit from Poco to replace Randy Meisner in the Eagles as he had done in 1968 for Poco -- that gave Poco an opening to score their biggest commercial success, 1978's "Crazy Love" from the album Legend. The album eventually sold nearly two million copies while Schmit was sitting in a studio in Miami recording the follow-up to Hotel California (1979's The Long Run, the last Eagles studio album for almost three decades), leading Glenn Frey and Don Henley to joke that Schmit may have left his former band right at the wrong time.

"Crazy Love" is a superlative song, one of the few numbers that became the best-known song for a "cult status" act that was actually deserving of the success (think of the best-known songs by acts like Jimmy Buffett, Warren Zevon, and Steve Forbert as examples of the opposite being true). One song that was overlooked on Legend that certainly should not have is "Spellbound." The song's title is a good indication of what the tune does to its listener.

The lyrics paint a lovely opening picture. The sound of crickets compliment the first line, "There's an easy evening breeze moving softly through the trees." The lyrics continue to weave a spell of spine-tingling lines ("she's got me hanging my a heartbeat") and meanders between first-person and third-person to suggest that this type of love (deemed "crazy" in that big hit on side two of the album) hits everyone at some point.

Poco has existed for over forty years in various incarnations. They have lost many famous members (Richie Furay, Jim Messinia, and the two bassists) and have seen music change so much that even their more rock-based songs would never find a home on country radio because they would be labeled "too country," yet they endure. As of this writing, original drummer George Grantham has recovered significantly from a stroke suffered onstage in July of 2004 but is unable to drum.

Country-rock would not exist without Poco, and if for no other reason than that they belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. .


(This is one band I truly want to say "get everything of theirs.")

The entire Rose of Cimarron album -- they should sue Emmylou Harris for what she did to the title track. Songs like "P.N.S. (When You Come Around)" and "Too Many Nights Too Long" make this one of Poco's best albums.

The entire Indian Summer album -- and then there's Rose of Cimarron's follow-up, the last album Timothy Schmit played on before leaving for the Eagles. What an album to go out on. The title track is one of the best songs of the 1970s, period.

The entire Cantamos album -- Richie Furay left after Crazy Eyes and Poco recorded a clunker (Seven). They rebounded beautifully with this marvelous album.

The entire Head Over Heels album -- the closest thing to a hit Poco had before "Crazy Love" is "Keep on Tryin'" off this album. Other gems such as their rendition of a song penned by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen ("Dallas") and a lovely tune about New Orleans ("Down in the Quarter") make this worth owning.

"Brass Buttons" (from Crazy Eyes) -- a lovely rendition of Gram Parsons' song.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Sound of One Heart Breaking

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate
ARTIST: Jackson Browne
SONGWRITER: Jackson Browne
ALBUM: The Pretender
YEAR/LABEL: 1976; Asylum

The perception was that I wrote an album about my wife's death, which was not true. If you want to listen to "Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate" or "The Pretender" or "Your Bright Baby Blues" -- they're not about somebody dying.
(Jackson Browne)

Many performers emerged from the "singer/songwriter" era of the late 1960s and early 1970s. A number of them either came from or were based in southern California (e.g., David Blue, who wrote "Outlaw Man" on the Eagles' Desperado album, Warren Zevon, Randy Newman, J.D. Souther, and James Taylor), to the point where critics of the music labeled it a "mellow mafia." Fair or not, the music would never be mistaken for Led Zeppelin and the lyrics were heavily influenced by the deep, introspective writing of Dylan or other folkies.

For years Jackson Browne wandered about in the land of "cult" status. He was best-known for an early hit, "Doctor My Eyes," and for co-writing the first Eagles hit "Take It Easy" with Eagles front man Glenn Frey. Despite excellent albums that were praised by both his fans and critics he could not break through to "superstar" success.

After the release of his album Late for the Sky Browne married the mother of his son, Ethan. While recording the follow-up album The Pretender Browne's wife committed suicide, leaving Browne alone to raise his son and try to mend his broken heart.

Browne later claimed that The Pretender was not a musical documentary of his wife's death and his struggle to move on. Perhaps the melancholy mood of the album makes it appear that the opposite is true. Whatever the case, The Pretender is an album of pain, and "Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate" is the most painful song of all.

The song may not be explicitly about Phyllis Browne's overdose in March 1976 but the imagery makes it difficult to conclude otherwise. The term "sleep's dark and silent gate" screams of a euphemism for death (especially given the number of cultures and religions that refer to death as "sleeping" or older songs such as Bill Monroe's "Mother's Only Sleeping"), which may be where the belief that the song was the most personal reference of Browne's heartbreak. Or it could be the literal cry in his voice when he pours out the line, "Oh, God, this is some shape I'm in." Misery and genuine grief oozes from every syllable uttered in this song, and that is one of the reasons for its greatness.

The Pretender enjoyed more success than any previous Browne album, gave him his second minor hit ("Here Come Those Tears Again"), and set him up for the superstardom that was to be his beginning with the next album (Running on Empty). The album stands in stark contrast to everything before or after it because of the personal tragedy Browne endured, best exemplified in "Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate


The entire Late for the Sky album
-- some of Browne's best writing and one of his best rockers ("The Road and the Sky"). From start to finish it is the premiere album of Jackson Browne's career.

"These Days" (from For Everyman) -- "don't confront me with my failures, I had not forgotten them" is not only the superlative line from this song but wisdom that the wisest of philosophers did not provide us with.

"Of Missing Persons"(from Hold Out) -- a tribute to Jackson's friend, Little Feat front man Lowell George, sung to George's daughter. A wonderful memorial to a great talent we lost too early.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Kenny Perry's Mother Dies

Category: Sports News

Kenny Perry is one of the truly nice guys on the PGA tour. The Kentucky native became a national hero during the 2008 Ryder Cup and nearly won the Masters in 2009. (Golf is one of those sports where second place is not, to the chagrin of Vince Lombardi and his famous quote, first loser.) He is also the 2009 recipient of the Payne Stewart Award.

Kenny Perry's mother, Mildred, died Thursday, October 1, in her Franklin, Kentucky home after a bout with multiple myeloma.

Perry will honor his family's request and play as scheduled in the President's Cup October 8-11.

Mildred Perry was 79.