In the somewhat fractured aftermath of Buffalo Springfield - the West Coast supergroup fronted by Neil Young and Steven Stills thrived from living on the brink - Furay and Messina cut their losses and worked themselves up a new thing in Los Angeles in 1968. The arrival of Rusty Young, the Springfield’s road manager and guitar technician, added a cool Colorado breeze to proceedings and he became the cement that kept the group together in various guises. When Meisner quit to join The Eagles he was replaced by Timothy B. Schmit, who would also do a moonlight flit to Eagle country via many sessions with Steely Dan.
Despite the line-up changes Poco continued to perfect an authentic country rock style that stands up alongside the best of The Byrds’ later works. It’s often the lot of the pioneers to be overlooked by history yet we have enough great Poco music on offer here to persuade you that there’s quality in the margins. Welcome to the Motel California.
Crazy Loving: The Best of Poco (1975-1982) is a more than handy distillation and a natural companion to The Forgotten Trail: 1969-1974. It includes the classic hit ‘Rose of Cimarron’ with its sweeping harmonies and groundbreaking melodic twists and turns. The instrumental ‘Ashes/Feudin’ nails Young as an unsung hero while ‘Heart of the Night’ and ‘Keep on Tryin’’ are the equal of anything in Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s canon.
Legend (1978) shows off their prolific nature and internal virtuosity. Actually, their lucky 13th album the group is now fronted by Young and guitarist Paul Cotton and they perfect a more commercial soft-rock approach on the hugely successful ‘Crazy Love’ and ‘Heart of the Night’ whose sales add an edge of irony to the struggles beforehand. Cotton’s ‘Barbados’ is another germ, allegedly the inspiration for The Beach Boys’ summery ‘Kokomo’, and the addition of an English rhythm section in Charlie Harrison and Steve Chapman acts as a boost to the mood. In many ways this is Poco’s most crafted album, certainly their biggest seller. Check out Phil Kenzie’s sax solo on ‘Heart of the Night’ or the full bore rock anthem ‘Boomerang’ to appreciate how Poco stayed on trend and then marvel at the powerful richly textured title track. Periods of transition are seldom as profitable as this.
Completing our selection we also have the Universal Masters Collection – Classic Poco (2009) where single versions of the adult radio friendly direction can be heard on the country gangster nugget ‘Under the Gun’ and the classic era ‘Widowmaker’, as well as fourteen other prime cuts. And to grab a taste of what life on the endless road was like for this criminally overlooked outfit there’s no finer place to dig in than ‘All Alone Together’ where they sing ‘Night and day become the same fine line.’ A sublime moment in a stellar career.
If you missed Poco first or second time around here’s the chance to pick up the pieces and help yourself to some country rock deliverance.
Words: Max Bell
Lushly produced pop/rock, Rose of Cimarron hosts an array of sidemen, most notably Al Garth, formerly of Loggin & Messina, and keyboardist Steve Ferguson. The country influence is nearly abandoned except for the Rusty Young tune "Company's Comin'/Slow Poke." There are great tunes with great arrangements throughout.
Words: James Chrispell
Known for their country-rock ease and light harmonies, Poco netted two of the finest soft rock tunes of the late '70s in "Crazy Love" and "Heart of the Night," which highlight Crazy Loving, one of the more accessible compilations from this California band. After these tracks, the rest of this package takes minor hits from rather lackluster albums such as Blue and Gray, Under the Gun, and Cowboys and Englishmen, gradually losing interest along the way. Although the group's countrified feel wraps itself tightly around songs like "Too Many Nights Too Long," "Indian Summer," and the instrumental "Ashes/Feudin," Poco's occasional knack for a catchy hook or a sincere lyric fails to rise to the top on most of these cuts. "Midnight Rain" and "Keep on Tryin'" are almost there, but the departure of Richie Furay in 1973 dealt somewhat of a blow to the band's material, and their laid-back sound pales in comparison to what the Eagles were putting out at the same time. This set makes for a better buy than any of the albums that these tracks originate from, but heartier collections contain material from earlier recordings, like Pickin' up the Pieces or A Good Feeling to Know, right up to 1989's Legacy, the album that gave them their last two Top 40 hits in "Call It Love" and "Nothin' to Hide."
Words: Mike DeGagne
This excellent two-disc collection captures Poco's finest moments from the days when they were laying down the template for all the country-rock music that was to follow. It's hard to remember, but when the Eagles first hit the scene, they were thought by many to be a Poco-wannabe band. Listen to this set and you'll hear why. The Forgotten Trail (1969-1974) culls tracks from Poco's first eight albums, as well as unreleased cuts and singles. From the classic anthem "Pickin' Up the Pieces," which kicks things off, through "You Better Think Twice," "C'mon," "Kind Woman," "From the Inside," "A Good Feelin' to Know," "Crazy Eyes," and on and on, this is wonderful music, ahead of its time in many ways. If Poco had arrived on the scene in the early '90s, they would have been kings of the country charts. Of course, without Poco, country music wouldn't have taken on the rock trappings that it did in the '80s and '90s. As it was, the band was considered too country for the Top 40 rock format of the time, and too rock & roll for country radio. This set is the place to start for an appreciation of the original Poco, when the group was considered to be Richie Furay's band. All the ingredients are here that made their music so delightful: the trademark high-vocal harmonies; Rusty Young's pedal steel guitar wizardry; Furay's patented juxtapositions of sad lyrics against bouncy, harmony-filled tunes; and their spirit of optimism and good feelings even in the face of hard luck and bad weather. The 36-page booklet does a fine job of telling the story in print, and the 38 songs speak volumes about the band's place and influence. Thanks to this compilation, Poco's trailblazing days need be forgotten no longer.
Words: Jim Newsom
Poco's biggest-selling album of all time also presented the biggest personnel change at one time for the then-decade-old group, whose lineup had hardly been a model of stability up to that time. Co-founding drummer/singer George Grantham and longtime bassist/singer Timothy B. Schmit were both gone, the latter off to the Eagles. Listening to parts of this album, one gets the sense that, with the arrival of Charlie Harrison (bass, harmony vocals) and Steve Chapman (drums) in the group, Poco was deliberately adopting a change in sound similar to what the Eagles went through when Joe Walsh joined, into much harder rocking territory, at least part of the time. Longtime fans were probably disheartened to hear Rusty Young and Paul Cotton give up any semblance of their country roots on the opening track, "Boomerang," a bracing, heavy rock number (for this band) that didn't sound a great deal like the Poco of previous years. Most of the rest of the album, however, was closer to what one wanted and expected from this band -- "Spellbound" a beautifully lyrical ballad that benefited from Young's instrumental range and his and Cotton's harmonizing, and Cotton's "Barbados" offering similarly alluring musical textures with more of a beat. Cotton's "Heart of the Night," however, dominated everything around it, as one of the most finely crafted songs in the group's history, highlighted by a beautiful sax solo from Phil Kenzie. And then there's "Crazy Love" (composed by Rusty Young), with its soft, ethereal textures, which was a little lightweight for this band but unassuming enough to dominate the adult contemporary charts at the time. Young's "The Last Goodbye" and "Legend" closed out the album on a more thickly textured, higher-wattage note, representing the group's newer sound, the latter with a memorably driving beat that, with "Boomerang," bookended the album.
Words: Bruce Eder
Although Poco released some tremendous songs at all the points during the group's run from the late 1960s through the '70s, constant membership changes no doubt played a part in the band never quite reaching its obvious full creative or commercial potential. This set features 16 tracks drawn from Poco's mid- to late-'70s stay with ABC Records, and while it includes some beautiful singles, most notably "Heart of the Night," "Crazy Love," and the gorgeous "Rose of Cimarron," it lacks any of the early material from the energetic Richie Furay/Jim Messina version of the band, so the picture of Poco that gets presented here is incomplete at best.
Words: Steve Leggett
Keeping the songs short and to the point, Poco lets loose with a fine batch of material. This time out, they even cover the Becker-Fagen song "Dallas" with great verve. There's less country, but a lot more pop.
A deliberate follow-up to Legend, Under the Gun was a workmanlike but unremarkable effort.
Talk about bad timing -- had Rusty Young and Paul Cotton only brought this concept album out about nine years later, around the time of Ken Burns' The Civil War, it might well have sold a few hundred thousand copies, or at least generated a little press and gotten a shot at some sales. As it was, in 1981, no one really cared that much about a concept album built around the Civil War -- or, at least not a country-rock concept album. Perhaps, unlike White Mansions, it came out too long after the American Bicentennial -- or that the culture war embodied in Reagan's election in 1980 had wearied too many people on the matter of national conflicts and divided nations. As it happens, this isn't a bad album, and at least benefits from more energy and ambition than its immediate predecessor, Under the Gun. There's some fine playing throughout and generally good singing, and some of the writing is inspired, although there are some lapses into lightweight, unmemorable fare also. A little more consistency might have lofted this album to the level of the band's best recent work, but it's still worth hearing as one of the more ambitious records ever to come from this long-lived country-rock band -- and it certainly didn't deserve the obscurity that enveloped it.
Poco's contractual obligation album to get off MCA Records (which had taken over ABC Records). A throwaway effort at a time when their career needed rejuvenation, not another wound. (Originally released on LP by MCA Records, Cowboys & Englishmen was licensed to One Way Records for CD reissue.)