America: Homecoming (1972)

After “Horse With No Name” everyone knew of the musical group, America, three American lads living in England who had a massive international debut hit album.  It happened at the right time, the folk-rock era was underway, as was the time of the singer-songrwiter.  Those catchy acoustic-guitar, folky riffs with the mysterious lyrical imagery was like a reverse British invasion.  Following up such a big hit (Billboard number one album) is too big a task for most artists, the sophomore effort is usually a dud.

Not so here. Homecoming was even better than the debut, although it only reached number eight on the chart.  The same gentle ballads and mid-tempo songs were there, but they added rock ‘n roll bass and drums.  And attitude.

With a number one album, Warner Bros. had no issues with hiring two of the best musicians in the business to fill out the group’s sound.  Hal Blaine behind the drums and Joe Osborn on bass guitar.  Both of these guys were the cream of the L.A. recording business, members of The Wrecking Crew, and owners of more Gold Records than probably anyone.

This time out, the group produced the album themselves and recorded in Los Angeles instead of London.  Somehow, these guys were able to quickly soak up the laid-back SoCal vibe.  It oozes Southern California.

One of the things I immediately enjoyed with this album was how connected the songs felt from beginning to end. No, it is not a concept album, and the songs do not link by segues, rather, there is a connectivity of feeling. The songs range from light and optimistic to heavily introspective, but seen slices of the same piece of emotional fruit. Albums like Carole King’s Tapestry or Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark have that same connective quality.

“Ventura Highway” Dewey Bunnell 3:32   “Alligator lizards in the air”, what kind of a lyric is this?  Who cares, it works for this traveling song.  The opening chords are hypnotic, and the bass quickly enters.  There are lyrical and chord changes galore, with a that harmony chorus that digs deep in your mind.  Okay, it is my favorite America song.  If you are driving down any highway, the sun shining and windows open, you have to crank up this song on the radio.  Federal law.

Chewing on a piece of grass
Walking down the road
Tell me, how long you gonna stay here Joe?
Some people say this town don’t look Good in snow
You don’t care, I know
Ventura Highway in the sunshine
Where the days are longer
The nights are stronger Than moonshine
You’re gonna go I know
‘Cause the free wind is blowin’ through Your hair
And the days surround your daylight
There Seasons crying no despair
Alligator lizards in the air
Wishin’ on a falling star
Watchin’ for the early train
Sorry boy, but I’ve been hit by Purple rain
Aw, come on Joe, you can always Change your name
Thanks a lot son, just the same
Ventura Highway In the sunshine
Where the days are longer
The nights are stronger Than moonshine
You’re gonna go I know
Cause the free wind is blowin’ through Your hair
And the days surround your daylight
There Seasons crying no despair
Alligator lizards in the air, in the air

“To Each His Own” Gerry Beckley   3:13  Very similar to “I Need You” if you liked that one, you will enjoy this one.  Beckley writes very heartfelt ballads.

“Don’t Cross the River” Dan Peek  2:30  A homerun by Peek, this would be his other big song for the group.  The best song the Eagles never write. A high-charting country-rock song that is hard to resist.  So don’t.

“Moon Song” Bunnell    3:41  A guitar song, lots of interesting effects.  Not the strongest song on the album, but very delightful.  When they hooked up with George Martin, there would not be any more of these songs.  These were musicians letting it loose.  Some fine guitar work.

“Only in Your Heart” Beckley    3:16  A piano-riff song, very friendly melody, upbeat love song.  Beckley focused on these kind of songs.  A fade out and a coda.

“Till the Sun Comes Up Again” Beckley  2:12  A gentle, upbeat ballad.  Short in duration, but it provides a great melody and vibe.  Brighter than if it had been on their more serious first album.

“Cornwall Blank” Bunnell   4:19  Another moody song, with heavy guitars.  Contrast with the bright pop group label, these guys could go emotionally deep.  This song would be a favorite of mine going forward.  If you don’t think America can rock, you haven’t heard this one.  This could easily have been a CSN&Y song.

“Head and Heart” John Martyn 3:49  A very moody ballad, played out on the electric piano with a lot of echo.  In future years, this would have had a string arrangement instead of the acoustic guitars and piano.  This song as a lengthy instrumental break to really focus on the melancholy vibe.

“California Revisited” Peek    3:03  A fun guitar song, an upbeat folk-rocker.  A song that would resurface later on a greatest hits collection.  Once again this shows these guys know how to play and create some nice harmonies around an accessible melody.  Not a classic, but a lot of fun.

“Saturn Nights” Peek   3:31  Another moody ballad, this album had a few.  You might expect Crosby & Nash to show up in the background chorus, it is their kind of song.  A really interesting song, one of my favorites from the album.  A great singalong fade-out.

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