Sunday, May 29, 2011
The early 70s brought softer sounds to the airwaves. Crosby, Stills & Nash, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and a host of other singers armed with acoustic guitars provided a mellow landing pad for many listeners. When CSNY imploded in a tangle of ego, substance abuse and solo efforts, America took up their sonic blueprint. Moving forward with great melodies, three part harmonies from heaven and a memorable first single ("Horse With No Name") Bunnell, Beckley and Peek arrived at number one right out of the gate.
Still in the afterglow of their successful debut, they set to work to prove that they were not one-hit, Neil Young clones. Riding that momentum, their sophomore disc was issued in late 1972 delivering ten pop confections that expanded upon the sound of this often underrated trio.
Homecoming opens with one of their best ever offerings. That silky, harmonized acoustic riff announcing "Ventura Highway" is signature and high marks are awarded for the arrangement. The tight vocal blend caps a very impressive tune, courtesy of Dewey Bunnell.
Taken as a whole, this disc is a chocolate sundae with all of the trimmings. All ten songs have something special that pull the listener in. The ones that really stand out for me are "Cornwall Blank" and "California Revisited", which both feature extended instrumental passages in their outros and serve to illustrate that Bunnell and Peek took their compositions in oblique, yet engaging, directions.
Beckley, on the other hand, seems content with being the Paul McCartney of the group, bringing great pop sensibility to his offerings of which the highlights are "To Each His Own" and "Only In Your Heart". Melodic, piano driven and pretty easy on the ears, these songs would garner a fair amount of airplay.
Augmenting the trio were a number of studio pros, most notably Hal Blaine on drums who was part of the famed "Wrecking Crew". They played on many of the sessions that produced countless hits in the 1960's. Impeccable playing on everyone's part brings additional strength to the record, which also boasts high production values.
Objections remain in the fact that, with some exceptions, their lyrics were not always that strong (case in point being "Til the Sun Comes Up Again"). America also took some stick for sounding like CSN (and sometimes Y) junior. That aside, the group counters such criticism on Homecoming by delivering a consistently satisfying set of songs. It stands up well today on the basis of inventive musical motifs and peerless vocal harmonies. Music that conjures up images of a sunny afternoon, cooler full of beer and no commitments, it is quite possibly the best album that they ever made.