LIVE from Your Speakers: America, AMERICA LIVE
Live albums – particularly, those from the ‘70s, the veritable dawn of such things – make great time capsules, terrific snapshots of a particular moment in time. For most artists of a certain vintage, they represent the highest of high points (think FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE, or CHEAP TRICK AT BUDOKAN, or, heck, even Neil Diamond’s HOT AUGUST NIGHT or BARRY MANILOW LIVE), capturing an artist or band at their commercial or artistic peak.
Which makes 1977’s AMERICA LIVE such an oddity. Yes, the band had just made HARBOR, a gorgeous but brooding album, one of several America records produced by Beatles ship steerer George Martin. After recording the album, which foundered on the charts, the band found themselves pared from a trio to a duo, as Dan Peek left to seek his fortune in Contemporary Christian music.
In It would seem an odd time, then, to commemorate the moment by issuing a live record, but AMERICA LIVE works, in spite of the drama. Recorded at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, the record begins with a flourish – a full-band crash into “Tin Man,” matched by the screams of delight from the audience (yes, screams – at an America show). Singer Dewey Bunnell matches the energy of the intro in his performance, and if you listen closely (on headphones, preferably) you can hear David Dickey’s bass playfully tangle with the acoustic guitars, mixed up front.
Bunnell and fellow singer Gerry Beckley have their harmonies down pat, putting a Crosby, Stills & Nash-style spin on “I Need You,” and combining with some lovely background voices to lift “Muskrat Love” above its anthropomorphic premise. And the duo’s work with Martin doubtless left its mark on their approach to melodies, as “Sergeant Darkness” and “Another Try” are both reminiscent of Paul McCartney’s piano ballads, in both arrangement and execution.
Of course, the hits are present and accounted for – “Sister Golden Hair” is lovely as usual, and both “Ventura Highway” and “Horse with No Name” maintain their status as trippy road songs of a deeply bewitching variety. America made great music of that nature back when you could get hits with such things – a time best celebrated with a spin through AMERICA LIVE.
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