Wednesday, 9 January 2019

America



America were a folk-rock band formed in London in 1970 by Dewey Burrell, Dan Peek and Gerry Beckley, who met as sons of US Air Force stationed personnel. Their main popularity was in the early/mid seventies.

I have reviewed five of their classic albums here, plus their greatest hits. They are:-

America (1971)
Homecoming (1972)
Hat Trick (1973)
Holiday (1974)
and Hearts (1975)

plus America's Greatest Hits.

Scroll down to read the reviews chronologically.

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AMERICA (1971)

1. Riverside
2. Sandman
3. Three Roses
4. Children
5. A Horse With No Name
6. Here
7. I Need You
8. Rainy Day
9. Never Found The Time
10. Clarice
11. Donkey Jaw
12. Pigeon Song   

America's debut album is a folk/rock classic, full of crystal clear acoustic guitars, airy melodies, gentle, harmonious vocals. They were clearly influenced by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and The Byrds, but, in turn, were hugely influential on groups like The Eagles.                                 

Riverside is a tuneful, atmospheric opener, while Sandman ups the beat somewhat with some solid drums and buzzy guitar sounds and sumptuous bass. It is very much of its time, so very early early seventies, with echoes of the hippy era still floating around all over the place. Three Roses is just so typical America - razor sharp acoustic guitars, gentle bass, tender soft vocals and understated bongo rhythm backing (played by Ray Cooper, who went on to play with Elton John for many years). Yes, it may all sound a bit clich├ęd and of its time, but boy is it atmospheric. The latest remastering of it is wonderful too. So warm and clear. Children is another that fits the same description, although it is even more laid-back, if that were possible.

Then, of course, is the one everyone remembers - the sublime, lyrically mysterious and magnificently atmospheric A Horse With No Name. In many ways, this track exemplifies early seventies folk rock more than any other, by any other group. It captivated me as a thirteen year old in early 1972 and still sends shivers down my spine now It is simply gorgeous. "After nine days I let the horse run free....". Such an evocative line.

The guitars on the lively Here are just superb, as indeed is the bas and drums. This rocky track showed that they could do some upbeat acoustic rock with the best of them. This is a wonderful track, with some mightily impressive finger-picking guitar in the middle too. Great stuff. So uplifting. In many ways, the guitar work is more intricate than that of their influencers. I Need You strangely fades in plaintively, although it kicks in to a Beatles-esque drum part half way through. Again, there are rock stylings to this, particularly near the end as well as the folk ones. Rainy Day is beautifully laid-back, with more sublime guitar work, both acoustic and sublime. So much material was influenced by this, particularly the way rock bands would approach acoustic balladry. Even now, an artist such as Paul Weller has put out stuff like this.

Never Found The Time is another low-key acoustic number with more crystal clear acoustic guitar. The same gentle mood is continued on the sensitive feel of Clarice. As with quite a few of the tracks, about half way through the beat gets rocky and it ends on a far ore lively note than it began. Donkey Jaw has many changes of pace, mood and feel, almost like a prog-rock song. It is the album's most adventurous composition. Some of the guitar parts remind me of The Jam's No One In The WorldPigeon Song is a short Neil Young-influenced number to end this very enjoyable, very influential early seventies folk/rock album. It is an album that never fails to lift my mood. Highly recommended.

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HOMECOMING (1972) 

1. Ventura Highway
2. To Each His Own
3. Don't Cross The River
4. Moon Song
5. Only In Your Heart
6. Till The Sun Comes Up Again
7. Cornwall Blank
8. Head And Heart
9. California Revisited
10. Saturn Nights  

This was classic folk rock group America's second album. While still based around their intricate acoustic guitar sounds and beautifully harmonious vocals, this is a lot more rocky than their debut album was, employing a more solid drum sound and some firmer bass lines. There is far more use of electric guitar in places too.                                  

Ventura Highway is just a delicious slice of 1970s freeway Americana. It is melodic, airy, catchy ad breezily beautiful. So very evocative of its era. "Alligator lizards in the air...." says one of the lyrics. America had not forgotten their hippy roots. To Each His Own is a subtle, mid-pace piano and drums rock number with an ethereal vocal. Don't Cross The River has a CSNY Marrakesh Express-style shuffling rhythm at the beginning before it breaks out into a lively country rocker. Moon Song has a nice bass line, together with some sumptuous electric guitar and pounding drums too as the song breaks out. The very folk-rock-ish Only In Your Heart reminds me of some of Gilbert O'Sullivan's songs from the same period. There is some nice buzzy electric guitar at the end.

Till The Sun Comes Up Again has an infectious rhythm to it and more of that gentle breeze effect in its quiet, peaceful feeling. Although rock drums are used, they are never overpowering. Cornwall Blank is a very Neil Young-influenced track, of which there were always one or two on America albums. Some more nice guitar on here, both electric and bass and some captivating percussion as well. Head and Heart is a beautifully sung acoustic number.

California Revisited is a perfect example of captivating early seventies folk rock. Lovely guitar, bass, drums and vocals and just a general laid-back but gently rocking feel. It really rocks out at the end though too, like many America tracks do, ending on a strong upbeat note. Saturn Nights is a beguiling piano, bass and drum backed number to close the album. As with the debut album, you can't possibly listen to this album and not pick up on its relaxing nature.

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HAT TRICK (1973)

1. Muskrat Love
2. Wind Wave
3. She's Gonna Let You Down
4. Rainbow Song
5. Submarine Ladies
6. It's Life
7. Hat Trick
8. Molten Love
9. Green Monkey
10. Willow Tree Lullaby
11. Goodbye   

This, America's third album, saw them slightly trying to diversify away from the acoustic-driven, airy folk-rock, harmonious vocals sound that so characterised their first two albums. It was laudable that they did this and it is not a bad album, but it does lack that typical America sound in some ways, although would more of the same have been advisable? Surely any attempts to change things a little have to be admired. Personally, I find this quite an interesting album.                                        
Muskrat Love is a quirky, bizarre song about Muskrats, as the title suggests. It has a goofy appeal, though. Wind Wave has those typical America harmonies, and a Neil Young feel to it, but it also has big orchestration half way through and a catchy rhythmic sound that was somewhat unusual for the group. She's Gonna Let You Down has the group going into piano-driven easy listening pop ballad territory. It features some good electric guitar too. Rainbow Song, although once again featuring a piano and drums rock backing, has echoes of the previous album, particularly in its beautiful, melodious vocals. Submarine Ladies is an appealing ballad with some fetching harmonica and country-style guitar. 


It's Life features some of those trademark harmonies over a subtle, soft rock beat. The vocals get rockier than they previously have by the end, and the guitar too. Hat Trick is a tuneful, catchy poppy number, with even a few jazzy parts. It is actually over eight minutes long and undergoes several changes in a sort of late sixties/early seventies Beach Boys style. (Brian Johnston is on backing vocals, coincidentally, or maybe not). It is the group's most innovative, adventurous song, by far. There is some excellent buzzy guitar on it too. The "running from the ring of the golden bell like a bat out of hell" lyrical bit near the end maybe influenced Jim Steinman. I wonder? It is all rather prog-rock-ish at times but is certainly different from anything they had done previously

Molten Love is an interesting, vaguely psychedelic song, with some Beatles-esque noises swirling around, it again is very different from any of their previous material. The same applies to the Neil Young-ish buzzy, solid rock of Green Monkey. Some commentators I have read have a problem with these tracks. Not me. I admire their innovative nature. Willow Tree Lullaby is a beautiful song such as was found on their debut album. Goodbye is another quirkily appealing, Beach Boys-influenced number. This album was America's Sgt. Pepper, their Wild Honey. It was far more Beatles and Beach Boys than CSNY or Neil Young so it made for something of a change. I think it is worthy of more than a few listens. 

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HOLIDAY (1974)
1. Miniature
2. Tin Man
3. Another Try
4. Lonely People
5. Glad To See You
6. Mad Dog
7. Hollywood
8. Baby It's Up To You
9. You
10. Old Man Took
11. What Does It Matter
12. In The Country  

After the almost prog-rock experimentations on 1973's Hat TrickAmerica sort of reverted to what made them popular in the first place - harmonious, laid-back folk rock. Light and breezy melodies abound. This was only to an extent, however, because Beatles producer George Martin was employed to produce the album (it was recorded in London) and you can certainly tell in the dominating orchestration. The latter took over from the bass and electric guitar sounds of the first two albums (particularly the second one). So, there were still considerable changes floating around on this album. It was, therefore, far more of a soft pop/rock album than a folk rock one. If you ask me, it is America's Wings album, so similar to Paul McCartney's band does some of it sound.                             
The albums begins with a short, classical influenced instrumental in Miniature before we get a real echo back to the Horse With No Name glory days in the airy, beautiful melody and vocals of Tin Man. It also has a sumptuous bass line. It is simply one of the group's best tracks. Another Try is a CSNY-influenced piano, bass and drum folk rock number with a haunting vocal that almost sounds like Gilbert O'Sullivan (as it had done on past occasions). It also features some seventies-era Beach Boys-style harmonies. Some sublime French horn enhances the song at the end. Very Beatles-esque, not surprising as George Martin was the producer, of course. With that in mind, you have to say that Lonely People is very McCartney-ish, with airs of CSNY (again, of course), Neil Young and The Byrds too. Or maybe those artists often carried airs of America in their music. The harmonica solo is positively Lindisfarne-esque as well.



Glad To See You has a very orchestrated backing under its typically America light folky harmonies. This is very much the difference on this album. As I said earlier, the strings have replaced the rock guitar of the first two albums. Mad Dog is so whimsically McCartney/Wings-influenced, with its mannered vocal and gently pounding piano. Even its melodic rise and fall is reminiscent of McCartney, and as for the guitar and brass section in the middle, it may as well have been Wings. Hollywood brings back that mysterious, fuzzy guitar folk rock sound of 1972. It is a beguiling track indeed. A most atmospheric song. Although there is probably no real link between this and Madonna's song of the same name, for me there is, deep down somewhere.

Baby It's Up To You is a warm, solid bassy slice of soft rock, with some evocative guitar sounds throughout. You is a Beach Boys-influenced short piece of harmonious piano, drum and bass-driven  rock, with Martin's trademark classically-derived brass augmenting the pleasant sound half way through. It is all very pleasant, and like the last album's material, actually quite experimental in its nature. This album, like the last one, was an innovative attempt to slightly change the group's sound in subtle ways. Not too much, but there are real differences between the first two albums and the next two.

Old Man Took is again a string-dominated number, despite keeping its typical harmonies. The affected whimsy of What Does It Matter is so McCartney he may as well have been brought into the studio. It even has that muffled vocal. Could it get any more "Wings". You bet. Just listen to In The Country. A more copper-bottomed Wings-style rocker you would struggle to find. Despite the obvious influences, though, it is still an enjoyable album.

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HEARTS (1975)


1. Daisy Jane
2. Half A Man
3. Midnight
4. Bell Tree
5. Old Virginia
6. People In The Valley
7. Company
8. Woman Tonight
9. The Story Of A Teenager
10. Sister Golden Hair
11.Tomorrow
12. Seasons    

Again, Beatles production pair George Martin and Geoff Emerick were employed in this, America's fifth album. The previous one, 1974's Holiday had been very influenced by Paul McCartney and Wings. This one, on quite a few tracks, sees America sounding more like they did in the early seventies, but with a bit of mid-seventies pop/rock polish applied. It is a classy pop/rock album with elements of folk rock still quite prevalent.                                          

Daisy Jane is a reflective, low-key, beautiful piano ballad with a soft rock backing the chorus. It has a winning AOR feel to it. Half A Man is a solid, chugger of a rock number with another of those Wings ambiences present. It features some good guitar in places and even gets a bit funky and wah-wah in places. You certainly wouldn't mark it down as being America. Midnight is far more what you would expect from the group - a light, breezy, acoustic piece of gentle folk rock. The same applies to the very MOR and tender Bell Tree. The laid-back mood continues on Old Virginia - a very CSNY/Band-influenced peaceful slice of folk rock.

The soporific mood is lifted by the clunky piano-driven People In The Valley. Some trademark America harmonies are retained though. There is also a virtual a capella vocal harmony part before some excellent electric guitar kicks in. It is a beguiling track. Company takes you back to the early seventies in its airy, breezy, melodious sound. It features some lovely percussion rhythm. It could easily be from the group's debut album. There is an excellent electric guitar solo at the end too. Woman Tonight is semi-funky and very Steely Dan in style, with some captivating percussion. There is a bit of the same sort of guitar Steely Dan used on 1976's Haitian Divorce right at the end.

 
The Story Of A Teenager is a sad song with a tuneful AOR backing, reminiscent a bit of Al Stewart or even Supertramp, in places. Sister Golden Hair was a popular single and it was a rousing country rocker with hints of The Eagles and also some Byrds guitar and a George Harrison riff at the beginning. It is the strongest, rockiest song on the album. It married America's well-known early style with mid-seventies driving AOR.

Tomorrow is plaintively beautiful, backed by a light organ sound and some fetching strings. Seasons is very folk rock-ish and actually sounds like Steeleye Span or The Strawbs in places. This was a pleasant album, although it was, I guess, becoming increasingly clear that America's style of music, however much it was dressed up with various production techniques, was very much unique to the early/mid seventies. By 1975, the group's best years were behind them, but the five albums between 1971-75 were not half bad.

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AMERICA'S GREATEST HITS

1. A Horse With No Name
2. I Need You
3. Sandman
4. Ventura Highway
5. Don't Cross The River
6. Only In Your Heart
7. Muskrat Love
8. Tin Man
9. Lonely People
10. Sister Golden Hair
11. Daisy Jane
12. Woman Tonight                        

This is a beautiful compilation of early 70s three-part harmony-driven, largely acoustic “easy listening” rock.

The influence of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young is never far away from many of the songs. The Byrds too. Beach Boys for the harmonies. The influence of America on The Eagles is clear on occasions too, Woman Tonight could almost be Rumours era Fleetwood Mac. Bits of Steely Dan Haitian Divorce guitar in there too, and a few years earlier than the "Dan" too.

The sound quality on this is simply stunning. Crystal clear acoustic guitar and a lovely, melodic bass sound, with a warm, full drum sound.

A Horse With No Name was the huge hit from 1972, lyrically perplexing and musically totally entrancing - “In the desert, you can’t remember your name, for there ain’t no-one for to for to give you no pain....”. See what I mean? Just such a great song, though, takes me right back to 1972 and this coming over the tannoy before football matches. I Need You is very, very Crosby, Stills & Nash. Plaintive, tuneful, harmonious and uplifting. Nice bass, drums and acoustic guitar sound. Sandman  is one of the heavier, rockier tracks, featuring a deep bass sound and some thumping drums. Some almost late 60s Traffic-like riffs in places. A great bass solo at the close of the song, mixing with some excellent acoustic guitar.

The lovely Ventura Highway was equally as atmospheric as A Horse With No Name, not quite as big a hit. Just makes you feel you are travelling down that highway with a cool breeze in your face. Hippy heaven. Don't Cross the River was another obviously C, S & N-influenced track. Extremely Marrakesh Express. It launches after a slow opening into an upbeat piece of violin-backed country rock. The vocals, as always are superb. The bass lines on all this album are excellent. The perfectly harmonious Only In Your Heart sees 70s melodic folk rock to the fore again. Hints somewhere in it of Gilbert O'Sullivan's songs from the same period. Storming electric guitar solo at the end. The bizarre Muskrat Love was a hit in the late 70s for The Captain And Tennille. This version is still pretty odd but not quite as syrupy as theirs - it is a song about two muskrats (called Sam and Suzie!) and their romance - "nibbling on bacon, chewing on cheese". The lyrics are quite amusing in places and of course the harmonies are lovely, as again is the bass line, but it just is a strange song.

The recognisable Tin Man was the third of the group's hits. This is a delicious chilled-out stream of consciousness relaxing song with Dewey Burrell's instantly recognisable voice to the fore. More addictive three-part harmonies.

On Lonely People,  a Dylanesque harmonica features. A lovely acoustic intro and that blissfully gentle bass guitar again. The drums kick and are joined by some bar-room piano and we are in to a classic piece of 70s country rock. It finishes a little too soon for my liking. Sister Golden Hair, however, is a simply lovely slice of laid back 70s US folk rock. Hippy in both its title and ambience. So many redolences of Neil Young here, particularly in the vocal delivery. A solid country rock beat similar to that often used in the early Eagles recordings. Some nice steel guitar parts too. Daisy Jane has a plaintive vocal over a faint "heartbeat" rhythm before the usual acoustic, laid-back sound kicks in and a fuller drum sound. Woman Tonight is so redolent of Rumours era Fleetwood Mac. As I said in the introduction, hints of the guitar from Steely Dan's Haitian Divorce. As with many of the featured tracks, it ends far too soon, just when you are starting to enjoy it.

Overall, though, this is a breath of fresh rocky mountain/California freeway air.

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Below is a clip of America performing A Horse With No Name in 1972.