Various Artists "I Like It Better Here: Music From Home" (Hemifran, 2010)
Asphyxiating on its own polish
This collection claims to feature “several key figures from the U.S. West Coast scene in the 70s”, but a far more accurate description would be 'a miscellany of forgotten West Coast singer-songwriters, session musicians and European revivalists, very few of whom produced anything of note in the 1970s themselves'.
The closest the album gets to genuinely “key” figures are harmony vocals from Crosby and Nash on Joel Rafael’s opener 'This Is My Country', a song which emulates all the platitudinous didacticism of Nash at his most self-indulgent, and Jackson Browne performing 'The Rebel Jesus'. Both these tracks are live and of dubious recording quality.
Conceived as a celebration of the concept of “home”, this hodge-podge certainly exhibits a thematic resonance, tapping into a rich seam of yearning which was undoubtedly characteristic of the mid-to-late 70s West Coast singer-songwriter scene. However, the problem with that scene was that as it progressed, it grew increasingly glossy and bland. The likes of Neil Young only continued to make interesting music by recognising this tendency and rejecting it. As he commented of 'Harvest', “It put me in the middle of the road. Travelling there soon became a bore, so I headed for the ditch”
Unfortunately, the majority of contributors to 'Music From Home' show no such self-awareness and continue to push folk-rock into the realms of AOR, with a slick, overproduced sound which smoothes out every rough edge until there is no longer any substance. If the prospect of artists such as Batdorf & Rodney or Bob Cheevers with three of the original members of Bread floats your boat, then you will probably find much to enjoy here. But no matter how intricate the guitar picking or how tight the vocal harmonies, it’s ultimately soft-rock, a betrayal rather than affirmation of the original West Coast aesthetic.
Thankfully, it’s not wholly without merit. Songwriter Keith Miles and 1980s Poco member Jack Sundrud have fun on the western-swing tinged 'Places the Devil Calls Home', whilst Steve Noonan, an early contemporary of Jackson Browne, provides one of the few remotely organic moments on the album with the rambling narrative, 'Goin’ Home'. However, these tracks really only distinguish themselves in comparison to their insipid surroundings and that is not a particularly notable achievement. Whilst 'Music From Home' undoubtedly succeeds in recreating a sound, it merely serves to remind us what an insipid, moribund sound that was.
Date review added: Sunday, September 19, 2010
Reviewer: Kai Roberts
Related web link: Record company website