Friends from LA (04/07/2000)
Best of Poco (MCA 2000) - Best of Poco captures 11 tracks from easygoing Southern California country rockers, Poco. The collection revisits such hits as "Heat of the Night" (from 1979) and shows a sophisticated sound, as twangy steel guitar melds effortlessly into adult contemporary sax solos.
Poco was formed in Los Angeles in 1968 and originally called itself Pogo. (The band was forced to change its name to Poco when Pogo comic strip creator, Walt Kelly, threatened a lawsuit.) Original members included Richie Furay and Jim Messina (both from Buffalo Springfield), steel guitar player Rusty Young, drummer George Grantham, and bass player Randy Meisner.
Through the years, Poco endured numerous personnel changes, as both Meisner and Timothy B. Schmidt left to join the Eagles; and Jim Messina became half of the hit-making duo of Loggins & Messina.
Poco scored only modest hits while releasing eight albums on Epic. Signed to ABC (later MCA), the band's success improved. Poco finally scored chart success with its 14th album, the 1978 gold release Legend, which cracked the Top 20 with the singles "Heat of the Night" and "Crazy Love."
Best of Poco spans the group's most successful years, from 1975 to 1982. All of the tracks have been digitally remastered from the original tapes.
The album includes the title tracks from Rose of Cimarron (1976), Indian Summer (1977), and Under the Gun (1980). Also included are two tracks from Head Over Heals (1975), including the sweet vocal performance of Timothy B. Schmidt on "Keep on Trying."
While Poco may not have been as commercially successful as some of their proteges, the impact of the players and their efforts reverberated throughout the industry. Said singer/guitar player Paul Cotton in a 1979 interview, "I was just determined not to give up. It really burned me up when people would say we didn't have a chance, first when Jimmy left the band, then when Rich left, and finally when Tim left. It just goes to show that if you hang in there long enough. . ."
Best of Poco shows the staggering change in the music business orientation during the last 20 years. Poco was allowed to record 14 albums for two major labels before finally achieving major success. Today's artists release one album, which is overhyped to the point that their second album invariably stiffs, and the band is discarded. Enjoy the rich legacy of Best of Poco.
Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now (Reprise 2000) - How quickly impressions can change. When I first checked the liner notes to Both Sides Now, I saw two featured players: Peter Erskine on drums and Chuck Berghofer on bass, and I said to myself, "Wow. Joni's playing with a three-piece combo (remembering how great her guitar sounded on the 1998 release, Taming the Tiger). This might be special."
Then I popped the disk in my player and the sobering reality set in: Joni actually recorded Both Sides Now with a full orchestral setting, courtesy of the 71-piece London Symphony Orchestra. That let a lot of air out of the balloon.
Then, I reviewed the song selection: two songs written by Joni (more below) and ten covers of oldies. And I mean real oldies. Starting with the 1933 song, "You're My Thrill," and continuing with "Comes Love" (1939) to relative newcomer "You've Changed" (1968), and back to old-timer, "Sometimes I'm Happy" (1925).
It hurts to call Both Sides Now a failure because I have come to truly enjoy Joni's rich voice. Unfortunately, the songs are too obscure, and the arrangements too quaint to resonate with a modern audience. The few chestnuts in the bunch include "Stormy Weather" (1933) and "I Wish I Were in Love Again," written by Lorenz Hart & Richard Rodgers (1937).
What's going on? Explains Joni, "The song sequence itself traces the arc of a modern love affair. I've always used my albums as a way to tell a story to take the listener on a trip. I wanted this one to develop sequentially, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, telling the story of what two people in love take each other through."
Not surprisingly, the highlights on the album are Joni's own songs: a reworking of "A Case of You" (from her 1972 release, Blue), and the ending song, "Both Sides Now." Explains Joni, "I wrote it when I was 21 and was really steeped in the classics of the genre. So it seemed to fit. It is a philosophical statement that brings the concept of the album full circle."
The philosophical statement I don't agree with. But I love her lush and world-weary vocals on Both Sides Now - I just wish there as more of it on the album. I used to think that "Both Sides Now" was kind of a sappy song, But I really like how Joni delivers it with understated elegance and lovely sax solos from Wayne Shorter.
And I also like Joni's attitude. Here's what she said in a recent interview with Rolling Stone:
Interviewer: "Did you watch the footage of the riots at the last Woodstock?"
Answer: "Caught a glimpse of it. It is just part. The world has gone made, you know. It is just junk. People's values are junk. What they spend their money on is junk. What they do to get their money is junk. They are junking the planet, basically."
Interviewer: "Besides that, are you optimistic?"
Answer: "Yeah, I am. I want to try and build some chi and some strength so I can ride this dark current that we are entering into."
Interviewer: "Back at the beginning of the 90's, I got a call from you claiming you were quitting the music business."
Answer: "Well, I've been saying that since I got in. The music business just makes me sick. It's just a joke. Where are the adults? This is whiners and screamers and screechers, and they are full of themselves over nothing . . . I am ashamed to be a part of it. I hate it with a passion."
Now, that's real attitude. Too bad we don't hear more of it on Both Sides Now.
- Randy Krbechek © 2000
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