Thursday, 23 March 2017

"Original Album Series" by AMERICA (June 2012 Warner Brothers/Rhino 5CD Mini Box Set with Singular Sleeve Card Repro Artwork) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Ventura Highway In The Sunshine..."

I never did quite get why America and their Seventies albums are so derided in some quarters – they made a beautiful racket when they hit that CSNY Harmony Vocals sweet spot. Sure the later stuff could be a tad schmaltzy on occasion – but this dinky little treasure trove offers seekers of Soft Rock an awful lot of good over bad. And "Holiday" from 1974 and "Hearts" from 1975 had the steer-ship of fifth Beatle George Martin at the Producer controls – both huge records - Top 5 albums in their native USA.

There are a lot of miles to cover so once more my nameless horses unto the Ventura Highway...

UK released 11 June 2012 - "Original Album Series" by AMERICA on Warner Brothers/Rhino 8122797457 (Barcode 081227974572) is a 5CD Mini Box Set with Five Single Card Repro Sleeves. Some Remasters - Some Not – it plays out as follows:

Disc 1 "America" (46:43 minutes):
1. Riverside
2. Sandman
3. Three Roses
4. Children
5. A Horse With No Name
6. Here
7. I Need You [Side 2]
8. Rainy Day
9. Never Found The Time
10. Clarice
11. Donkey Jaw
12. Pigeon Song
Tracks 1 to 4, 6 and 7 to 12 are their debut 11-track album "America" - released December 1971 in the USA on Warner Brothers BS 2576 and December 1971 in the UK on Warner Brothers K 46093. When the song "A Horse With No Name" (originally a stand alone 7" single) became a US hit in early 1972 (eventually went to No. 1 as did the album) - "America" the LP was repressed using the same American catalogue but with that track slotted in on Side 1 between "Children" and "Here" making it a 12-track LP. It is this version that is represented here (the UK 11-track LP and even later represses never featured "A Horse With No Name"). Produced by AMERICA, IAN SAMWELL and JEFF DEXTER - it peaked at No. 1 on the US LP charts and No. 14 in the UK.

Disc 2 "Homecoming" (33:20 minutes):
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 [Side 2]
7. Cornwall Blank
8. Head & Heart
9. California Revisited
10. Saturn Nights
Tracks 1 to 10 are their second studio album "Homecoming" - released November 1972 in the USA on Warner Brothers BS 2655 and December 1972 in the UK on Warner Brothers K 46180. Produced by AMERICA - it peaked at No. 9 in the USA and No. 21 in the UK.

Disc 3 "Hat Trick" (41:35 minutes):
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 [Side 2]
8. Molten Love
9. Green Monkey
10. Willow Tree Lullaby
11. Goodbye
Tracks 1 to 11 are their 3rd studio album "Hat Trick" - released November 1973 in the USA on Warner Brothers BS 2728 and November 1973 in the UK on Warner Brothers K 56016. Produced by AMERICA - It peaked at No. 28 in the USA and No. 41 in the UK.

Disc 4 "Holiday" (32:56 minutes):
1. Miniature
2. Tin Man
3. Another Try
4. Lonely People
5. Glad To See You
6. Mad Dog
7. Hollywood [Side 2]
8. Baby It's Up To You
9. You
10. Old Man Took
11. What Does It Matter
12. In The Country
Tracks 1 to 12 are their 4th studio album "Holiday" - released July 1974 in the USA on Warner Brothers W 2808 and July 1974 in the UK on Warner Brothers K 56045. Produced by GEORGE MARTIN - it peaked at No. 3 in the USA (didn't chart in the UK)

Disc 5 "Hearts" (36:17 minutes):
1. Daisy Jane
2. Half A Man
3. Midnight
4. Bell Tree
5. Old Virginia
6. People In The Valley
7. Company [Side 2]
8. Woman Tonight
9. The Story Of A Teenager
10. Sister Golden Hair
11. Tomorrow
12. Seasons
Tracks 1 to 12 are their fifth studio album "Hearts" - released April 1975 in the USA on Warner Brothers BS 2852 and April 1975 in the UK on Warner Brothers K 56115. Produced by GEORGE MARTIN - it peaked at No. 4 in the USA (didn't chart in the UK).

DEWEY BUNNELL - Lead Vocals and Guitars
GERRY BECKLEY - Guitars and Vocals
DAN PEEK - Bass, Acoustic Guitars and Vocals 

The elaborate tri-gatefold that came with "Homecoming" and the inners and inserts that came with "Hat Trick" and the others are all AWOL in the single sleeve card sleeves and apart from track lists on the generic coloured CDs - there is bugger all by way of info with these multiple packs. But that’s how all these "Original Album Series" sets are – cheap and cheerful. And as luck with have it – Warners have used the second pressing of "America" from 1972 so it includes the huge No. 1 hit "A Horse With No Name".

The Audio is a mixed bag of superlative vs. extremely good. Take "I Need You" on "America" or "To Each His Own" on "Homecoming" - I've had Remasters of these and the audio here is pretty much the same - very clear - beautiful really. However I have Remasters from the "The Definitive Collection" of "Muskrat Love" and the lovely "Sister Golden Hair” and it has to be said that the Remasters are way better than what's on offer here. If I were to break it down - I'd say the first two CDs sound exceptional while the final three are merely very good. But don't let that put you off – you're essentially getting an awful lot of quality here for a very small outlay – roughly of course two quid per album. To the music...

Excepting the non-album track "Everyone I Meet Is from California" (the B-side to "A Horse With No Name" on both sides of the pond) - this 5CD set gives you the A&B-sides of a whopping thirteen American singles - eight of which did the business in the Rock Charts. First up is the song that broke them - "A Horse With No Name" from January 1972 - that was followed in April 1972 with the ballad "I Need You" featuring the equally musical "Riverside" on the flipside – a No. 9 hit. "Ventura Highway" b/w "Saturn Nights" came in September 1972 and went one further to No. 8 (the A-side is surely one of their finest moments) - while "Don't Cross The River" b/w "To Each His own" reached a miserly No. 35 in February 1973.

The third album "Hat Trick" should have been a triumph but it produced a series of 4 x 7" single misses - beginning in March 1973 with "Only In Your Heart" b/w "Moon Song" - the first 45 to not chart. Given the hooky and commercial nature of "Muskrat Love" (paired with "Cornwall Blank" from the second album "Homecoming" on the B-side) - it's odd that the melody didn't light up the top ten in June 1973. Strike three came in November 1973 with "Rainbow Song" b/w "Willow Tree Lullaby" - another non-charter. Last was "Green Monkey" in March 1974 b/w "She's Gonna Let You Down" - but it marked loser number four.

But they were all quickly forgotten for July 1974's "Tin Man" from the new "Holiday" LP. With the album cut "In The Country" on the flipside - the annoyingly simple yet wildly catchy "Tin Man" was perfect American Radio fodder and gave them a rightful No. 4 chart hit. "Lonely People" b/w "Mad Dog" was released November 1974 and with time made No. 5 in early 1975. Their second Number One came with the much-loved "Sister Golden Hair" b/w "Midnight" - a huge hit in April 1975. "Daisy Jane" b/w "Tomorrow" from June 1975 went to No. 20 - but "Woman Tonight" b/w "Bell Tree" from October 1975 failed to ignite.

But where this 5CD set comes into it’s own is with those album tracks you 'never' hear. The debut alone has loads - the 'stop and see what I'm on about' song "Three Roses" - a wickedly infectious acoustic melody that still sounds amazingly fresh 46 years after the event. The strummed "Here" – the piano love song "I Need You" and the gorgeous "Never Found The Time" (very Mercury Years Rod Stewart in its own way) – will all probably elicit tears amidst men of a certain age. And that acoustic guitar build-up intro to "Donkey Jaw" sounds beautiful - and if it had the moniker Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young on the LP label instead of America – would have been declared a ‘quit ravishing the land’ masterpiece by every journo for miles around.

Amongst the other four albums is the impossibly pretty familiar faces of "To Each His Own", the David Crosby vibes of "Moon Song" and the sheer soul-warming peacefulness of their John Martyn cover of "Head And Heart" on "Homecoming" (it was on Martyn's masterpiece "Solid Air" in February of 1973). They would even re-write "Everyone I Meet Is From California" as "California Revisited" although I prefer the simpler original (that song is available as a Remaster on "The Definitive Collection" 2CD set). The hankering "Wind Wave" from "Hat Trick" could easily have been a single (love those harmony vocals) and "Submarine Ladies" feels so Neil Young lonesome with that treated Harmonica. 

"It's Life" has one of the most ethereal and beautiful synth/guitar openings to any of their songs - while I've always liked the gorgeous string-instrumental "Miniature" that opens the "Holiday" album - very "Cinny's Waltz" on Tom Waits' 1977 Asylum album "Foreign Affair". And that strange guitar in the 'drinks on me' song "Hollywood" gives you a surprisingly sinister element – like hurt is lurking in that Californian clarion call to all na├»ve youngsters. And the so damned depressed "Sister Golden Hair" still strikes a chord - how many weddings has this been played at...

Alligator lizards in the air – hit by purple rain – thanks a lot son... With lyrics like this - America the Band was never cool or hip. And for sure even die-hard fans would have to admit that as the albums went on an uneasy easy-listening schmaltz started to creep in amidst those immaculate Production values and sweet Harmony Vocals.

But like Bread and the Eagles - they made music that reached out to millions of people - and on the evidence presented here - it's obvious why. Pick up this 5-disc "Original Album Series" reissue and discover why you still need Ventura Highway in the sunshine...

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