Friday, December 9, 2011

Pure Prairie League Busts Out.

These days, when anyone thinks about the Pure Prairie League, they usually hear the Vince Gill-era "Let Me Love You Tonight" hit from '77 playing in their head. But the group's history goes back much further than that, and is much richer than that.

The original version of Pure Prairie League, from 1972, was a country-rock band much more in the mold of the Buffalo Springfield / Poco mold. The group's driving force was Craig Fuller, a singer, songwriter and guitarist who was the heart and soul of the original League (named, by the way, for a Temperance group in the old Errol Flynn movie "Dodge City"). Fuller was a really talented songwriter, penning almost all of the songs on the band's first two Lps for RCA.

The first Lp, self-titled, didn't make many waves, but "Bustin' Out" had the huge hit "Amie." That song is just the tip of the iceberg, though - every song on this album is a wonder. The opening cut, "Jazzman", tells the tale of an itinerant musician trying to find a little love in his off-time, with beautiful harmonies and wrenching pedal steel courtesy of Al Brisco, a legendary Canadian steel player who shows up on many of the '70s country-rock classics. "Early Morning Riser", another of my favorites, is a sweet second-chance offer to a lady who's been dumped, with the awesome lyric:

There's not much more I can do to try and make things right
If you need another sunshine brother
I can be right there beside you by the early morning light

There's also the incredibly tender "Boulder Skies", and a soaring big-production closer, "Call Me, Tell Me." I've been spending a lot of time with this record lately, and I can tell you that each and every song is now embedded in my brain like an electrode from a science experiment.

Bonus: David Bowie's protege, Mick Ronson, is all over this record as a session guitar player and string arranger. Go figure!

Fuller would leave the Pure Prairie League in '74, teaming up with Eric Justin Kaz for a short while before becoming a member of Little Feat and founding the country-rock band American Flyer, another underrated group whose two Lps on United Artists are overlooked classics in their own right, and well worth finding.

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Doing the Aussie Crawl with Kasey Chambers

Some of us remember how pissed off the Country Music Association was back in the '70s when Olivia Newton-John kept winning Grammys in the Country music category. "What do Aussies know about country?" they whinged. Quite a bit, as it turned out. Americans like to think that our music belongs only to us, and we get all possessive when someone from another country does it as well (or better).

30 years after Livvy pulled off her Grammy coups, Kasey Chambers came round with much the same story. Raised in the outback in aboriginal settings, she nevertheless developed a taste for traditional Country - and not only that, she was good at making it herself.

Kasey has a very winsome voice, with more than a trace of whiskey husk, and her writing is better than most. Many of these songs are very sparsely instrumentalized, making great use of just Kasey's voice and her guitar. She sings about things she learned in the desolate Australian plains, like trains, loneliness and pining for companionship. And she can rip your heart out one moment, then slam you into the chair the next. I love music like this.

"Barricades And Brickwalls" is her 2nd US album, released in 2001. Start with songs like "If I Were You", "Crossfire" and "Not Pretty Enough", and go from there. You'll be wanting to hear more, I guarantee it.

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