They were always a bit too slick.
Like the Eagles but without the melodies.
OK, that’s harsh but I do think they bridged the gap between rustic country rock and the Eagles country pop.
The other problem is their ever changing line-ups. It’s like a bowl of spaghetti. Of course band politics should have nothing to do with the actual music but it does. It does my head in trying to work out the Poco comings and goings.
Allmusic: “One of the first and longest-lasting country-rock groups, Poco had their roots in the dying embers of Buffalo Springfield. After Neil Young and Stephen Stills, the co-founders of that group, exited in the spring of 1968, only guitarist/singer Richie Furay and bassist Jim Messina remained to complete the group’s swan song, Last Time Around. The final Springfield track, "Kind Woman," included only Furay and Messina, with a guest appearance on steel guitar by Rusty Young …..Young stuck with Furay and Messina, in the process skipping a scheduled audition for a new group that ex-Byrds member Gram Parsons was putting together. Auditions followed before the fledgling group reached out, at Young’s urging, to ex-Boenzee Cryque drummer/vocalist George Grantham, and also to bassist/singer Randy Meisner, who had previously played with a band called the Poor. This lineup rehearsed for four months before making their debut at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, in November of 1968”.
That’s the easy bit …there is more to come.
It is appropriate to quote this here though, Wikipedia says Poco were “Highly influential and creative, they were pioneers of the country rock genre and forerunners of the Americana genre”.
That is a comment I have heard often and I suspect it relates mainly to the original line-up and early Poco albums with Furay and Messina (from the great aforesaid Buffalo Springfield).
Because Buffalo Springfield were at the forefront of emerging “country rock” and, accordingly were, by their very nature, inventive and determined to take music to new places. Many of the country rockers who followed played well (and sometimes better) but may have lacked the quirky inventiveness of the first generation of country rock bands.
They seemed more content to turn the music into a marketable commodity.
End of editorial for now.
During (or just after) the recording of the first album Randy Meisner left to play in Ricky Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band before becoming a founding member of the Eagles.
Bassist/vocalist Timothy B. Schmit joined for the second album and then Jim Messina left. Paul Cotton (formerly of Illinois Speed Press) joined for the third album. This line-up, Furay, Cotton, Young, Schmit, and Grantham, lasted for two albums and then Ritchie Furay left (the last original Buffalo Springfieldian).
This line up is:
Paul Cotton – guitars, vocals
Rusty Young – pedal steel guitar, banjo, Dobro, guitar, mandolin, vocals
Timothy B. Schmit – bass, harmonica, vocals
George Grantham – drums, vocals
It lasted three albums including this album, “Cantamos” from 1974.
Since then many more have come and gone (some 20 people have travelled through the ranks of Poco) but only Young remains constant.
This sound , which is associated with California, was made up by Californians (although some would have been 1st generation Californians) as well as musicians from all over the west (south, north and mid) who gravitated to California looking for that musical pot of gold.
Not that such a convergence was a one off. People have been flocking to California for more than a hundred years and taking their music with them. The authentic 60s country Bakersfield sound from California, which gave rise to Buck Owens and Merle Haggard and the Californian Paisley Underground, Cowpunk and Roots Rock movements in the 80s were also made up of new "inter-state migrants" mixing it up with the locals..
Everyone’s going to California.
By the time of this album, this fifth version of the band which had Young and Grantham from the 68 lineup, had refined their sound to a point where they could play (and play well) in their sleep.
All they needed were hook songs and maybe some inventiveness.
And therein lies the problem.
There are individual beauties on the few (very few) Poco albums I have heard but they have never put out a stellar album. I say this with the proviso that I have not heard their early albums yet.
Those later albums seem, to me, to be largely samey with songs blending into each other within and between albums.
The band seems to be imitating themselves or at worst imitating the general country rock sound, rather than adding anything new. That I could understand from English and Australian country rock (and roots rock) bands because the music is "foreign" to them and not in their collective consciousness. It usually comes over as a pose or image with rudimentary country stylings attached. Sad, but true.
I expect more from these guys though.
Unfortunately, that “sameness” has always made it difficult for me to totally enjoy those later Poco albums.
And largely the general market, those not specifically into country rock, are still unlikely to be name more than a couple of Poco songs.
Poco may be quite early in the country rock genre but (from what I have heard) they are not up there with Gram Parsons, The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Michael Nesmith or the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band but they are (usually) better than The New Riders of the Purple Sage, The Ozark Mountain Daredevils , The Pure Prairie League, Firefall, American Flyer and always better than the Little River Band. I don’t mention The Eagles because they out sold everyone and wrote (and covered) some catchy tunes but they really did move the genre to the pop and soft rock end of the spectrum.
But they are held high, but (without labouring the point) that reverence seems to come from their great pedigree, their impressive live ability and the fact they were always the talk of the town, apparently.
By the way – I have no idea what the album’s title is all about. "Cantamos" is Spanish for sing or rather "let’s sing". There is no Spanish influences in the music but they do sing I suppose..
Tracks (best in italics)
- Sagebrush Serenade – Pleasant and well played but it makes the Eagles sound like Hank 3, if you know what I mean.
- Susannah – very country Byrds – as if it wasn’t going to be ….but a good one.
- High And Dry – an extended workout that is more than a little dull.
- Western Waterloo – groan
- One Horse Blue – groan
- Bitter Blue –
- Another Time Around – fark, what happened to the last song. I missed it because it sounded like the one before and this one sounds like the last one.
- Whatever Happened To Your Smile – at last something a little out of the ordinary
- All The Ways – hmmm, groan.
A tough one. Will I grow to like this?. Will I want this for completeness?…. At the moment I’m inclined to say there are a few songs worth keeping but I may get rid of the album.
Yes, that would be the sensible thing to do.
1975 Cantamos The Billboard 200 #76
High And Dry
Another Time Around
Whatever Happened To Your Smile
There is a lot of trivia here …this band has some killer pedigree (past and future):
– Furay (born Ohio) left Poco in 1974 to form the Souther Hillman Furay Band with JD Souther (who had been in a band with pre-eagles Glen Frey) and Chris Hillman (from The Byrds) . It was during this time that Al Perkins, the band’s pedal steel guitar player, introduced Furay to Christianity. His newfound faith helped him rebuild his troubled marriage and led to series of Christian albums.
– Messina (born California) became half of the soft rock (and hitmaking) duo (Loggins and Messina)
– Randy Herman Meisner (born Nebraska) and Timothy Bruce Schmit (born California) were both later in the Eagles.
– Rusty Young (born California) and George Grantham (born Oklahoma) found regular work in the genre.