America, in the early ‘70s, brought an acoustically-flavoured folk-pop to the world of music that generated some 10 or more hits such as “A Horse With No Name,” “Ventura Highway,” and “Lonely People” to name just a few. The music was soft-pop for the most part but immensely favourable with a large audience. The band was able to produce a hits-packed ‘best of’ that still does well and America concerts still do relatively well.
On their newly released Here and Now, the duo of Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell – Dan Peek had long since gone to perform solo – continue with their soft pop style to create an album of originals and covers. The album is paired with an added disc that contains an XM Radio live performance, playing most of their popular hits. It is a strikingly interesting note that this album was produced by Smashing Pumpkins’ James Iha as well as Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schelesinger, a fact that highlights the allure of America over generations.
It is certainly nice to revisit the stuff that made you an America fan in the first place; the second CD brings that mindful territory to you. Recorded at the XM studios on October 23 of 2005, this small live set delivers a set that is familiar and warm. Most of their hits are here. You’ll find a polished effort here that certainly comes with over 30 years of performance shine but you’ll enjoy it nevertheless. I particularly love the performance of “Woman Tonight,” which changes the song enough to make it like an unearthed nugget just found. Other goodies include “Lonely People,” an electrified “Sandman,” and, of course, the signature, if not slightly dry performance of “A Horse With No Name.”
The opening track of the new material (on CD1), “Chasing the Rainbow” starts off reminding a little of “Ventura Highway” in its guitar intro, and thus sets the important tone for the rest of this album. The song is a short but apt lead-in for what becomes a quite enjoyable America album, one that reminds of the band’s place in time but also showing a strong grasp of what the band was and is still, a band of soft, sweet melodies with lyrics of remembrances.
As you progress through the new album’s 12 tracks (not counting their bonus CD inclusion of hits performed live), you feel that the band has matured musically. Every song is America remembered but a better sounding unit today than before. Songs that stand out include “Chasing the Rainbow,” “Indian Summer” (Maplewood), the beautifully crafted - and covered (My Morning Jacket) - “Golden," the Nada Surf cover tune, "Always Love” (my choice for lead-off single), the perfect “Ride On,” a collaborative work between Dewey Bunnell and Adam Schlesinger, and the tranquil, very America-like “Walk In the Woods.” In comparison, Here and Now stands out as a more mature version of the band’s 1972 debut album.
Like a remembrance of a long ago summer where, as the day’s sun was setting, you took a mental snapshot of an idyllic moment that never seemed to dissipate with time, standing eternally as the perfect moment. Here and Now is like that moment; you can’t grasp it but the memory of it makes you eternal while it plays. America may not have been your band in the ‘70s, but, I’m betting there’s a gift in these songs for you now.