America – Homecoming

America HomecomingHorse with no Name is the song that everyone remembers from this early seventies soft-rock band, but that’s only the start of the story. Released on November 15th, 1972, Homecoming was the band’s ‘difficult second album’, attempting to repeat the runaway success of that certain song. It sees the original band members down to Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell and Dan Peek from the original four-piece. All were children of US servicemen stationed in the UK, in a unique position to be influenced by fast tuneful sixties British pop and the rock tendencies of the US scene.

The album was produced by the band themselves, with two veteran musicians of Los Angeles’ Record Plant Studios, Hal Blaine and Joe Osborne, who lend percussion skills and experience to a very young band. The group was an embarrassment of riches, each member boasting great songwriting skills, although they took it upon themselves to cover John Martin’s Head and Heart as their only non-original composition. The overall result is beautifully crafted folk rock that’s both melodious and thought provoking.

The superb vocal harmonies owe much to The Byrds, while in turn there’s quite a lot here that could have inspired Fables of the Reconstruction-era REM. That the album was largely recorded live (with just the occasional overdub) is all the more remarkable. The album takes the band’s return to California in 1971 as its theme, being a kind of ‘travelogue’ of their journey. The lyrical style is both wide-eyed and celebratory, but also tinged with a little (British-style) cynicism. The brilliant Ventura Highway still sounds as arresting today as it ever did, and rightly deserves to be the song the band are remembered for.

Vinyl is the best way to sample this fine album, but many copies will be threadbare by now, over-played and under-cleaned. It’s good on CD too, but the real jewel was for a long time Rhino’s DVD-Audio release. Beautifully presented with magnificent artwork, it brings a taste of the original gatefold spread of the first pressing of the LP release. Sound is superb for an album of its day, both clean and open yet warm and smooth – all the more surprising because Homecoming is not what you’d call a typical audiophile’ album. Via both LP and hi-res, bass is full and deep, soundstaging impressive and vocals sound almost uncanny. Overall then, a great classic rock album that has been strangely overlooked and underrated up to now.

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