Sunday, April 25, 2010

PLAINSONG - In Search Of Amelia Aerhart 2CD (Water/2005)
All this talk of country-rock, MOR and sensitive singer-songwriters has probably scared off all but the most foolhardy from reading this blog for the foreseeable future, but since, amongst all this talk, I have even't mentioned this unknown masterpiece, I figure I'll quickly put the final nail in the coffin. I've written several times about UK singer/folkster Ian Matthews before: he played on Fairport Convention's first two albums, then left to form Ian Matthews' Southern Comfort, recorded two albums with them then split again.
He then put out two brilliant solo albums, If You Saw Thro' My Eyes and Tigers Will Survive, before then forming the band known as Plainsong. They released this very album, In Search Of Amelia Aerhart, for Elektra in 1972, quickly followed by another album session which remained unreleased until the Water label did a deluxe 2CD reissue of their debut a few years back. That reissue - a goddamn deluxe one w/ a montain of bonus material - is the one I speak of. Of course, Matthews also put out a few more solo gems when Plainsong called it quits, at which point he'd moved to the US, but you'll have to search through the back pages of this blog, if you so care, to get the details on them (they're equally as excellent, and like most of what I've just mentioned, also reissued via the Water imprint).
In 2001 he even released a collaborative album w/ acclaimed NY musician Elliott Murphy - a guy whose allegedly great albums from the 1970s I'm still yet to hear (though one day I surely will) - so it's nice to know he's still kicking around, even though, from what I've heard, most of what he produced from the mid '70s onwards was strictly MOR mush. All of this waffle - and what waffle it is! - is merely background material...
Calling Plainsong's debut "country-rock" may be stretching it, but not that much. You could probably label it as folk-rock more than anything else, but one with an added twang to the sound when the occasion warrants it. I said in a recent post that the Holy Grails of early country-rock were those efforts from the Byrds, Michael Nesmith, Everly Brothers and the Flying Burrito Bros., and I'm gonna lay it on the line for all dozen people on earth who care: I'll add In Search Of Amelia Aerhart to the great canon. One of the best aspects of Plainsong's album is that it does not, by and large, sound like a rootsy rock album released in the year 1972. Keep in mind that the genre, then its throes of being ruined forever by the mega-success of The Eagles, was on a fairly rapid downhill slide, so the chances of such a great record as this being written, recorded and released at the time was marginal. The bulk of the material could've been lifted from Sweetheart Of The Rodeo; sure, the vocals are much cleaner (Matthews' uber-sweet pipes are some of the most pleasant in the biz), but the group approach to the material steers this far away from session-muso hell: Plainsong sound like a real roots-rock outfit. I'd rate the opener, "For The Second Time", as one of the great non-lame ballads of its era, and had this come out in 1968 and not gotten so lost in the shuffle, it might've made a bigger impact than it did. As it stands, it remains drool fodder for collector/obsessive dorks: you know, not the kind of music "regular" folk buy. The album received great reviews, of course, but tanked in the marketplace. In other words, it's the kinda record you could likely do with.
I have now gotten all that out of my system. I hope you are only beginning. For the "fans", coming over the following weeks will be my summations on various "punk" and/or "free-jazz" albums of yore.


Cousin Creep said...

So glad you mentioned this release, it is one of my fave obscure major label releases that I knew hardly anything about.

Jason Odd said...

Great call, and a great LP.

I love Matthews debut LP - Matthews Southern Comfort, the albums he cut with a band as Matthews Southern Comfort (formed to tour the debut) and his solo albums up to 1974, where sadly he got obsessed with the doobie bros.-steely dan type stiffness, and other musical styles over the years.
Perhaps I should move on from country-rock and relish what he did under the influence of New Wave and the like, but why mess with perfection.

His buddy from Plainsong, Andy Roberts also has a slew of rather awesome country-rock solo albums, and are just a part of the mostly forgotten UK rural-rock; country-rock scene that got swallowed up by the pub-rock crowd, (I reckon about half of the pub-rockers were frustrated country-rockers) then later punk.