Here And Now

America

As is the case when many ‘older’ musical acts release new material these days, the 2-CD set Here And Now features a cast of ‘newer’ artists playing, writing, and producing the latest studio recordings of the iconic band America. The result is some solid songs as well as a ‘live’ set from an XM radio performance. The first two tracks, “Chasing The Rainbow” and “Indian Summer” more or less set the tone for the studio CD of America’s new stuff. These dozen acoustic-based tunes revisit the refreshing twelve-string guitar strumming, the leads played on acoustic guitar, and those harmonies of Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell, the remaining members.

One concern I have with the formula (and really, that’s what it is, a ‘formula’) of current-popular-artists-bolstering-the-old-guard is that there is sometimes a little too much of the new guys on the finished product. On the song “Golden,” there is nary a trace of Bunnell and Beckley; it mostly features two dudes from My Morning Jacket. And though the single “Ride “On” is a pretty decent song, Ryan Adams and Ben Kweller are featured almost as much as Bunnell and Beckley. This first CD boasts production by Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne and James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins, but I don’t see what they really contribute to this production other then their ‘cache’ to attract ‘popular’ folks such as Adams and Kweller and members of Nada Surf and My Morning Jacket (less anyone forget, America had ol’ George Martin himself as their producer for their first seven releases).

What is refreshing is that of the 12 songs, most were either written by one or two of the guys in America (for me the band has laways been as much as the songwriting as their harmonies). “Walk in the Woods,” the CD's final song, is as solid an America tune as we can ever hope for all these years later. For old America fans though, the second CD, a live set recorded in the XM studios in 2005, is the treat here. Live, Bunnell and Beckley can still harmonize pretty well together (sure, there are other voices contributing here). When America lost Dan Peek way back when I feared they had lost an integral part of their sound (and they had). But Beckley and Bunnell pretty much deliver on this live set with the stripped down production that XM offers.

The stand-out tracks on this ‘live’ CD include the opener “Ventura Highway,” “I Need You,” and “Lonely People.” The vocals aren’t exactly the way we remember them, as there is some extra warbling on the higher notes and some sharp ‘nasal’ tones, but these old tunes are sung quite well by these old-‘er’ dudes (“Tin Man” sounds especially good, Bunnell might just have a leg up here on the vocals). What I most like though of the live set is the simple acoustic blend of instruments. Bands accustomed to playing “unplugged,” or those more dependent on acoustic instruments for their sound, flourish in the XM setting (Tull and Yes did it to great results). When “Sister Golden Hair” and “Sandman” push a little too much, i.e., when the “XM” setting is stretched to its rock and roll limit, the results are not as good as when the bands exploit a more ‘acoustic’ feel.

Here And Now is really worth picking up for the XM live CD alone. Will older America fans care that Ryan Adams plays on some new songs or a guy from Fountains of Wayne produced the studio CD? (nothing against Schlesinger, he’s from my home state actually and I pass the real Fountains of Wayne almost every day). I am interested in ‘new’ stuff from America, but the studio CD is not as interesting, certainly not in the same company as older America classics, which are represented well on the second CD of this collection.

~ Ralph Greco, Jr.

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