|Poco in the 70s|
Have any of y’all ever heard that final three song stretch from Poco’s Crazy Eyes? If, you haven’t, do yourself a favor and play those three songs “Crazy Eyes”, “Magnolia” (a JJ Cale cover), and “Let’s Dance Tonight” first (they’re found at the bottom of this post), then come back and read onwards. Its such a brilliant stretch of shifting musical moods, and expansive ideas on what Southern rock and country music could be that it should challenge some misconceptions even you might have of the genre itself. Now here, here’s another band, this one hailing from the South…Southern California that is, showing other routes that Southern type of music could take if someone would just give them a chance. Its a route other bands way later like Wilco, and all other sorts of No Depression types would later rediscover, albeit late in the game.
I won’t go into too much detail on the band’s back story since its shifting lineup makes it damn hard to do so, their creation was even by happenstance, a product of Jim Messina‘s production work and Rusty Young’s slide guitar session playing for Buffalo Springfield‘s “Kind Woman” convalescing into creating a band around Springfield member Richie Furay and future Eagles bassist Tim Schmit to mine that sound. Their early albums displayed the first modern traces of country rock as we know it: three-part harmonies, easy west-coast leaning Bakersfield-type of melodies, synth/electronic sounds, and serious Americana explorations. However, by the time of 1973’s Crazy Eyes with Richie letting the rest of the band know that this was his last album he would record with them, they decided to dive head first into a different kind of “cosmic American music” itself an alternative country sound that one of their idols and friend Gram Parsons attempted to create. Even going so far as to cover his “Brass Buttons” en homage to him.
Mining progressive arrangements (Crazy Eyes), ambient-like textures (turning JJ Cale’s ballad into an opus), and shifting into ridiculous catchy power country pop mode (Let’s Dance Tonight) they finally had something their friend Gram could only hope to top. Unfortunately, for them what started as this grand celebration stretching country and southern rock boundaries, became a eulogy for their dying friend who wound up passing away just three days after this album’s release. None of that is heard more clearly than in their multi-part epic “Crazy Eyes” their attempt to portray the sorrow and pain this loss weighed on their heads.
|Crazy Eye-era Poco|
Stringing along sombre spare banjo passages, harrowing orchestral arrangements, dissonant electric guitar sounds, and passionate country harmonies, Poco created a sound that let you know exactly what kind of power this type of music can unleash when it wanted to and the song itself became more than a fitting way to honor Gram. There’s a spine tingling moment, later in the song, as Richie reaches for those high notes when he sings “Down among the South Carolina pines/you spent/Most of your life” that informs the sweep of emotions laden in this track. Then, just as they take you on a musical high, they let you glide down with their take on JJ Cale’s “Magnolia.” Amping up all the grace and space of the original with some cloud-busting synth and string arrangements, somewhere around the 3 minute mark and again around the 5 minute mark, oof that there, that there section just touches some nerve that didn’t exist yet. Finally, rather than leave you in the clouds, Poco finish you off with “Lets Dance Tonight” a slice of brilliant power country pop (if such a genre can exist?) that sends you dancing out into the summer night. I could not escape the force of this trio urging me to place it in my end of summer playlist theme, y’all stay tuned I’ve got more great southern rock tomorrow…
Bonus track time, completely forgot about “Faith in the Families” a track that was left off Crazy Eyes, its a marvelous blend of Neil Young-type Americana and West-Coast rock (ha, best done by Ned Doheny at times, just an aside…):