When I was growing up in the USA in the 1970s, one of the more popular musical groups was America. They had a string of big hits, songs that always seemed to be playing on the radio, such as “A Horse With No Name”, “Ventura Highway”, “Sister Golden Hair”, “Tin Man”, and “Muskrat Love.” After downsizing from a trio to a duo, they hit the charts again in the early 1980s with another massively popular song, “You Can Do Magic.” In some musical circles it wasn’t particularly cool to be a fan of America, but there was no denying the pure pop power of their songs: well-crafted tunes further brightened by the band’s radiant harmonies.
But if you thought America was one of those oldie acts that had seen its better days, guess again. Although they did take a lengthy break from recording after releasing the Perspective album in 1984, the group has been quite active in the past decade, releasing several fine new albums and performing a series of concerts.
In 2007 the group — now composed of founding members Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell — released Here & Now, a double CD set that included an impressive album of new songs (the group’s first new recordings since 1984’s Perspective), plus a bonus disc of live concert recordings. Intriguingly, the album was co-produced by James Iha from Smashing Pumpkins and Adam Schlesinger from Fountains of Wayne, giving the album a convincing “alternative” cache while retaining the classic elements of America’s sound. The new songs on the first disc were a mix of original material and covers, among them My Morning Jacket’s “Golden” and an achingly beautiful version of Nada Surf’s “Always Love.” Listening to these fine new songs was a revelation; America truly sounded as good as they ever had.
In 2011 they released Back Pages, an album of astutely chosen cover tunes. This was one of those cases of a band making someone else’s songs their own, or at least sounding like they were tailor made for them. Among the highlights were covers of classic tunes by Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, the Zombies, Brian Wilson, Mark Knopfler, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, James Taylor, and George Harrison, as well as pleasing takes on songs by newer bands such as the Gin Blossoms and Fountains of Wayne.
Earlier this year another new America album, Lost & Found, was released. These new songs were actually older ones, recorded between 2000 and 2011. While that period might not be considered the “golden age” of the band by some fans, these “lost” songs are all of high quality and worthy additions to the group’s catalog. Listen to Beckley and Bunnell sing; after all these years, they haven’t lost their melodic magic whatsoever.
Meanwhile, here are the other CDs that I have been playing frequently lately, prompting several instances of dancing in the moonlight and bouncing off the walls.
Sory Kandia Kouyate – La Voix De la Revolution
Punch Brothers – The Phospherescent Blues
Keith Richards – Cross Eyed Heart
Georgie Fame – Mod Classics 1964-1966
Various Artists – Dessu Records Story
Various Artists – Palenque Palenque: Champeta Criolla & Afro Roots in Colombia 1975-91
Yo La Tengo – Stuff Like That There
Sam Dees – It’s Over: 70s Demos & Masters
Various Artists – California Funk
Denise LaSalle – Make A Good Thing Better: The Complete Westbound Singles 1970-76
Robert Palmer – Pressure Drop
Tommy Guerrero – Lifeboats and Follies
Goldfrapp – Black Cherry
Sturgill Simpson – High Top Mountain
The Beau Brummels – Autumn of Their Years: Nuggets From the Golden State
The Notations – Still Here 1967-1973
Various Artists – Wheedle’s Groove: Seattle’s Finest in Funk & Soul 1965-75
Brewer & Shipley – Down in L.A.
Cannonball Adderley Quintet – In Chicago
Detroit Emeralds – Do Me Right/You Want It You Got It
Al Stewart – Famous Last Words
Michael Chapman – Wrecked Again
- Z. Hill – The Down Home Soul of Z. Z. Hill
Old 97’s – Most Messed Up
Roy Ayers & Wayne Henderson – Step Into My Life/Prime Time
Eddie Bo – Baby I’m Wise: The Complete Ric Singles 1959-1962
Plainsong: Reinventing Richard: The Songs of Richard Farina
Richard Betts – Highway Call
Various Artists – Joe Gibbs: Scorchers From the Early Years 1967-73
The Youngbloods – Get Together: The Essential Youngbloods
The Green Arrows – 4-Track Recording Session
Charles Earland – Leaving This Planet
Hank Crawford & Jimmy McGriff – Soul Survivors
The Misunderstood – Before the Dream Faded
J.J. Grey & Mofro – Ol’ Glory
Bobby Patterson – Texas Soul Man Extraordinaire
Richard Thompson – Still
Various Artists – Eccentric Soul: The Dynamic Label
Drive-By Truckers – Alabama Ass Whuppin’
Cowboy – Reach For the Sky
The Counts – What’s Up Front That Counts
Isaac Hayes – Truck Turner/Tough Guys
Jackie Mittoo and the Soul Brothers – Last Train to Skaville
Electric Light Orchestra – Out of the Blue
Elbow – Build a Rocket Boy