Cast in the shade by contemporaries like the Eagles, Poco shine brightly on this gem from 1976.
Poco, formed in 1968 from the ashes of Buffalo Springfield, were pioneers of country rock, an early form of what we now call Americana. Richie Furay and Jim Messina from the Springfield (whatever happened to the other members?) joined up with pedal steel player Rusty Young, bassist Randy Meisner, and drummer George Grantham for their debut album, ‘Picking Up The Pieces’. Initially they were to be called Pogo, after a popular American comic strip, but that was nixed when the artist threatened to sue them, so Poco it was.
It was a portent of the bad luck which was to bedevil Poco throughout their career. Nothing earth-shattering – no scandal – but constant lineup changes and poor sales came to be their trademark despite a great run of albums in their first decade together. Meisner and Messina jumped ship almost immediately and Furay left after the fourth album, ‘Crazy Eyes’ but Young and Grantham carried on with Timothy B. Schmit and Paul Cotton in their ranks by now, the quartet releasing four albums between 1974 and 1976, a fine run which culminated with ‘Rose Of Cimarron’.
Consider this. By 1976, LA musicians, especially those on Asylum Records and, in particular, the Eagles, were shifting albums by the shitload, although the recordings were becoming increasingly glossier. Whether ‘Rose Of Cimarron’ was a calculated attempt to join the gravy train is beyond this article but, in essence, it’s a cracking collection of country-influenced rock songs that remain pretty much close to their roots while providing a thrilling (and radio-friendly listen). Nevertheless, and despite the title song going on to be a regular feature on radio, the album only hit #87 on the US charts.
The disc opens with the title song, written by Rusty Young. Almost seven minutes of cool west coast harmonies, shimmering guitars and dusty Dobro and banjo, it ends with a climactic guitar solo and a sweet string instrument arrangement, both of which are quite tremendous. It pretty much knocks the Eagles into a hat (as does much of the album). ‘Company’s Comin’/Slow Poke’ is a roustabout acoustic medley which comes across as a kind of amped-up bluegrass showcase, much in the manner of contemporaries such as The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, while ‘Tulsa Turnaround’ shows that writer, Paul Cotton, has perhaps been listening to the likes of Leon Russell and J.J. Cale. Cotton also cottons on to border music on the impressive ‘Too Many Nights Too Long’, a jailbreak song which is somewhat akin to some of the songs on the Eagles’ ‘Desperado’ but is just so much more textured and vivid. He’s also the writer on a pair of Burritos’ like cosmic country rock numbers, ‘When You Come Around’ and the honky-tonked ‘All Alone Together’.
With Timothy B. Schmit, Poco had an ace up their sleeve. A wonderful singer and songwriter, he had provided a unique hit for them previously with ‘Keep On Tryin’’ (from the previous years ‘Head Over Heels’ album – highly recommended) and his contributions here equal it. ‘Just Like Me’ is classic L.A. country-rock – think of Linda Ronstadt- as is ‘Staring At The Sky’, although the latter sails perilously close to yacht rock at times with its sax solo. Schmit quit the band soon after to replace his Poco predecessor, Randy Meisner, as bass player for the Eagles. Poco carried on with ever decreasing rewards and, for this writer, never again achieved the heights of their early career. Various line-ups and reunions over the years can now be considered to be at an end given that both Rusty Young and Paul Cotton have passed away recently. ‘Rose Of Cimarron’ stands as a fitting tribute to both of them and stands tall in its own right.
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