Poco/Loggins & Messina
Reviewed on this page:
Pickin' Up The Pieces - Poco - DeLIVErin' - From The Inside -
Sittin' In - A Good Feelin' To Know - Loggins & Messina - Crazy Eyes - Full Sail -
The Souther, Hillman, Furay Band - Mother Lode - Seven - Native Sons - Messina - Legacy - Tell Me The Truth
There are three possible reactions to the prospect of reading a Poco review: 1) Poco? Isn't that some old comic strip?; 2) Poco?! Are you nuts? How could anyone waste their time listening to such vapid, out-dated easy-listening country-rock? Jeez, those guys almost make the Eagles sound like Jimi Hendrix. 3) Poco? Fantastic, someone's finally giving them their due. After all, Poco was better than Mozart - why haven't they sunk into the popular
consciousness the way lightweight acts like Dylan and the Beatles have?
Hmm, well, I won't argue Poco vs. Mozart, but I will note that if reaction #2 understandable, it's also unkind and unfair. The problem is that the band carried on pointlessly for years after its founders had quit, churning out one unlistenable muzak-like disaster after another. But Poco actually had more commercial success in this later period, blinding the public to the fact that they'd had far more artistic integrity in their earlier days. If you're careful, you can dig out some early discs - all featuring Richie Furay - that are actually entertaining, if never profound.
With four screechy, tightly harmonizing vocalists and a solid musical grounding in country-western, Poco was always distinctive, tightly rehearsed, and professional. And they set the pattern for many later soft-rock/country hybrid bands - most notably the monstrously successful Eagles, who stole not one, but two bass players from Poco. Or look at the Loggins & Messina records (all of which are reviewed below), which were a Poco spin-off pure and simple.
Poco formed in 1969 when Stephen Stills and Neil Young quit the Buffalo Springfield, ditching producer Jim Messina and tenor harmony specialist Richie Furay. Realizing that Furay could write enough new material to keep an entire band going, the pair recruited a rhythm section and a pedal steel guitarist and struck out in the country-rock direction pointed to by many earlier Springfield efforts.
Messina quit within two years and went on to huge commercial success in a partnership with Kenny Loggins, but Furay kept the act together and put out a couple of decent records before quitting himself in 1973. At that point the rest of the group - bassist Tim Schmit, pedal steel whiz Rusty Young, drummer George Grantham, and Messina's guitarist replacement Paul Cotton - continued on, recording regularly and scoring a surprise hit record in 1978, right after Schmit left for the Eagles. Despite a few hiatuses, the Cotton-Young version of Poco has struggled on ever since, touring as recently as last year.
As for Loggins & Messina, I've somehow ended up with a complete collection of their works and don't find much to say about them, other than that they started out listenable and close to Poco's sound and eventually degenerated into saccharine 70s pop product.
I wouldn't rank the act as one of the decade's most important, but perhaps they deserve a little more attention than they now get; some of their biggest early hits like "Angry Eyes" are worth remembering.
Once the duo broke up in about 1977 Messina failed to keep a high profile, but he occasionally put out a solo record and appeared on Poco's ill-fated 1989 reunion album Legacy.
It may seem incredible, but I actually receive many furious flame letters from Poco fans in response to this page. My blanket response is that I do like the band; I think Richie Furay and Tim Schmit did some fine songwriting on the early records. From the perspective of a 60s rock fan like myself, however, I find the band often hard to take seriously because of its conformity to stale country and pop music conventions, aggravated by occasional lapses of artistic judgment. If you still want to flame me at this point, see our flame writer's FAQ.
I know of at least one Poco fanzine homepage and there may be others. (JA)
Poco:Richie Furay (vocals, rhythm guitar); George Grantham (drums, vocals); Randy Meisner (bass, vocals); Jim Messina (lead guitar, vocals); Rusty Young (pedal steel guitar). Meisner quit. later joined the nascent the Eagles, replaced by Tim Schmit, 1969. Messina quit to form Loggins & Messina, replaced by Paul Cotton, 1971. Furay quit, 1973. Schmit eventually replaced Meisner in the Eagles, appearing on that band's famous last record, but Young and Cotton continued to drag "Poco" into the lower reaches of soft-rock hell.
The Loggins & Messina band: Merel Bregante (drums), Jon Clarke (horns), Lester "Al" Garth (horns, woodwinds, fiddle), Milt Holland (percussion), Michael Omartian (keyboards), Larry Sims (bass).
Pickin' Up The Pieces (1969)
With bassist Randy Meisner quitting after the record was cut, but before it was even released, Poco was in trouble from the very start. And they'd already peaked out on this, their very first record, laying down some catchy country-rock numbers whose sincerity and cheerful energy later escaped them (title track; "Grand Junction"; "Consequently, So Long"). The band quickly and foolishly ditched their amusing Springfield-inspired sound, which relied heavily on Messina's distorted, tremelo-laden guitar and Furay's intricate harmony vocals. It's too bad: Pieces is a classic, an impressively early example of country-rock at its best. The recent CD release includes a superior version of "Do You Feel It Too" as a bonus track (it was later re-recorded for From The Inside). (JA)
Although Messina contributes a memorable, upbeat pop song ("You'd Better Think Twice"), once again it's the Richie Furay show (excellent country-rock epics like "Anyway Bye Bye"). Unfortunately, this time he came up short on songwriting ideas, leaving the band to fill out half the record with an endless, remarkably uptight jam session.
Sure, Poco was ten times better-practiced than any other West Coast act was back then, but that doesn't make for listener-friendly jamming. The combination of Messina, Schmit, and a more sophisticated approach to recording marks this as the band's artistic peak; but the extended jam downgrades it to one-half of a great record, in the tradition of Blind Faith. (JA)
This is a brief but tightly performed and, well, chipper live album - the kind of thing that doesn't require too much of a listener's concentration. Fans will find it exciting and consistently engaging, with none of the lazy jamming so common on contemporary live rock records; but it's also made largely redundant by the preceding studio albums.
On the other hand, there's also no filler, as on Poco, and Messina's lead guitar contributions are quite good throughout. The track selection relies heavily on Poco's debut LP, although there are a couple titles I haven't found on their other records. The band also covers a pair of Buffalo Springfield numbers ("A Child's Claim To Fame"; "Kind Woman") and one song from the second album ("You'd Better Think Twice"), not lending very much to the arrangements but not messing them up either. (JA)
From The Inside (1971)
Despite earlier triumphs, Steve Cropper seems to have spent all of the early 70s ruining other people's records with his lame approach to production (see also Jeff Beck). This effort is so toothless that one marvels at the band's later ability to recover from Messina's departure. It's harmonies-drums-bass-guitar-pedal steel all the way, with minimal overdubs and none of the instrumental experimentation of later records. Messina's replacement, Paul Cotton, contributes a couple of loud, unenlightening rockers ("Bad Weather").
The rest of the record is dominated by Furay, like usual, but the man seems to have no lyrical ideas at all, with the words sounding like they'd been read off of Hallmark cards ("You Are The One"; "Do You Feel It Too"; "What If I Should Say I Love You"). That said, Furay's sharp ear for catchy tunes and snappy melodic hooks comes across clearly on those same songs.
Outside of that, the high points are a quaint, hand-clapping country piece at the record's start ("Hoe Down") and the title track, written by Schmit. (JA)
Sittin' In (Loggins & Messina: 1972)
Billed as "Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina," the pair's first effort did poorly on the charts.
But in the wake of their later successes, it eventually went gold - and in fact,
it's their high point.
Some of it does sound like early Poco ("Nobody But You").
But Messina was a smart enough producer to also emulate contemporary pop, adding Elton John-style piano and horns to Loggin's more up-tempo numbers ("Back To Georgia"; "Rock 'N' Roll Mood") and glorying in sophisticated harmonies, modulations, and melodic hooks.
Loggins does deliver a sentimental acoustic ballad, but this time it's the record's most memorable tune ("Danny's Song").
Meanwhile, his shamelessly cutesy "House At Pooh Corner" is tuneful and cleverly arranged.
Messina debuts his multi-part pop symphony formula, and although he did the same thing better later on, this piece's harmonious final segment does hit the mark ("Lovin' Me/To Make A Woman Feel Wanted/Peace Of Mind").
He also interpolates a soon-to-be-characteristic calypso break into his brilliant pop song "Vahevala."
But he looks backwards as well, with an epic, eight-minute political protest number - Déjà Vu indeed ("Same Old Wine").
With hardly a misstep other than the boogie-woogie-ing "Listen To A Country Song," this album is the acid test for potential Loggins & Messina fans. (JA)
A Good Feelin' To Know (1972)
Poco takes the plunge, ditching their purist country-rock formula in favor of new producer Jack Richardson's bombastic, occasionally orchestrated arena rock. Some of it's quite good - Furay's anthemic, up-tempo title track, and even a couple of Cotton's predictably loud and numbskulled rockers ("Keeper Of The Fire"). Ironically, however, Schmit had developed into the band's best songwriter by this point, with his prettily harmonized "I Can See Everything," and grippingly dramatic "Restrain" - it's ironic and unfortunate that he's widely known just for his melodramatic Eagles number "I Can't Tell You Why." Despite all of this, the low points are truly low: a pathetically unimaginative cover of Stills' "Go And Say Goodbye," from the the Buffalo Springfield days, and the over-orchestrated, cheesy Richie Furay gospel epic that ends the record, leaving you with a bad taste in your mouth ("Sweet Lovin'"). (JA)
Loggins And Messina (Loggins & Messina: 1972)
This was the duo's most successful record, with two Top 40 singles: the gentle love song "Thinking Of You" and the monster hit "Your Mama Can't Dance," a generic, sugary R & B workout that's about as believable as the average car commercial. The album's writing credits are split down the middle, but with Messina producing, it's his show all the way. He's amazingly thorough and has plenty of ideas for nifty breaks, insidious riffs, and cool instrumentation; the catchy "Angry Eyes" goes through every soft-rock gimmick you can think of during its seven-minute running time - it's probably the best tune they ever recorded.
Here and elsewhere the sound owes a lot to the early Poco, with tight harmonizing, some country-western instrumentation ("Just Before The News"), and Messina's distinctive, slightly gritty lead guitar. But it's softer, slicker, and less sincere, thanks to Loggins' grating sentimentality and the frequent use of woodwinds, piano, and jazzy horns. The only notable guest is Rusty Young ("Long Tail Cat"). (JA)
Crazy Eyes (1973)
Furay's last hurrah, but he contributes only two weak tracks - and the rest of the record isn't much better. The production is, uh, interesting, but consummately 70s, employing synthesizers, horns, and even saxophone for the first time on a Poco record (Furay's boring, endless title track; Cotton's equally boring cover of J. J. Cale's "Magnolia"). Cotton seems to have picked up some of Furay's bleached-white country-soul singing style ("A Right Along"), but by this point Poco had already devolved into pure AM product. For diehards only. (JA)
Full Sail (Loggins & Messina: 1973)
Although the songwriting isn't as catchy here, Messina's ambitious production, the ornate harmonies, and the lack of any real stinkers makes this as good a buy than the last record (the cutesy reggae/steel drums number "Lahaina" is annoying, but short). Messina wrote most of the tunes, but there are a couple collaborations like the record's hit single, "My Music" (a good-timey 50's rock 'n' roll number with swinging horns and even a doo-wop vocal break). Loggins also gets in a characteristic acoustic guitar love song ("A Love Song" indeed!). Meanwhile, Messina seems like he's on a holy mission to produce the most complex un-orchestrated soft rock record in history.
He delivers three sprawling mini-pop-symphonies, and the instrumentation includes mandolin, steel drums, fiddle, piano, harmonica, and all manner of horns and woodwinds (the best and shortest is the slightly dark "Sailin' The Wind"). Fortunately, Messina still delivers some terse and biting guitar solos, plus a few pleasant ballads ("Travelin' Blues"). The backing band is exactly the same as the last time. Despite "My Music" being their last Top 40 single, Loggins & Messina recorded three more highly successful albums. (JA)
On Stage (Loggins & Messina: 1974)
Ironically, this live double album reached a slightly higher chart position (#4) than anything else the duo released. I have it and I think it's uneven but listenable, with a couple numbers rambling past the point where you can remember what tune you're listening to ("Vahevala"), but Loggins' introductory acoustic set being enjoyable and most of the duo's better song material ("Angry Eyes") showing up. (JA)
The first Poco record without Furay. Jack Richardson was still producing at this point, and the good news is that he had mostly retreated from the overblown orchestration of Crazy Eyes. But that left him with the riffy, squishy, carefully harmonized L.A. country rock sound that the Eagles were so effectively perpetrating back then - even Young largely abandoned his dobro for a slicker, Eagles-influenced slide guitar. Cotton and Schmit were more than up for taking Furay's place as lead vocalist, but like usual they had nothing more than platitudes
to offer lyrically.
The endless march of elaborate soft rock riffs doesn't add up to much, but Schmit's falsetto is a guilty pleasure, and his oddly orchestrated, super-slow waltz
"Krikkit's Song (Passing Through)" does break from the mold. Cotton or Schmit wrote everything except Rusty Young's brief hoedown number "Rocky Mountain Breakdown," with Jim Messina on mandolin and Al Garth on fiddle. The omnipresent 70s percussionist Bobbye Hall guests on a couple tracks. (JA)
The Souther, Hillman, Furay Band (1974)
Furay didn't wait long to rejoin the fray; he teamed up David Souther (associate of the Eagles) and Chris Hillman (ex-Byrd) to form a short-lived country-rock group. Elektra figured it had another CSN on its hands: take one part Springfield, one part Byrds, one part pop songwriter, and stir. So they hyped the record heavily, and indeed it went gold and produced a Top 40 hit (Richie's lively "Fallin' In Love").
There's only one problem: it's dull. They're just following the same old L.A. country-influenced pop formula, with the usual watertight tenor harmonies, super-professional musicianship, and mournful romance lyrics.
But all of the material is solid; Furay's is as good as ever ("The Flight Of The Dove"), and Souther provides audible sincerity (the epic "Deep, Dark And Dreamless") matched with creative, Eagles-style tunefulness - his "Border Town" even features that band's trademarked, sardonic commentary on the Me Decade's party scene. So it's not a waste of time as long as you're already a 70s country-rock fan.
The band is pretty high-powered: Jim Gordon (drums), Paul Harris (keyboards), Joe Lala (percussion on two tracks), and Al Perkins (pedal steel; his dobro plays excellently off of Hillman's mandolin on "Rise And Fall"). Richie Podolor produced. (JA)
Mother Lode (Loggins & Messina: 1974)
Messina follows his formula relentlessly here, with yet more pop symphonies blending mellow country and jazz themes ("Be Free" works, but "Move On" is an uncharacteristic bore). Even his instrumental palette is largely the same - mandolin, fiddle, flute, sax - although he throws in a little synth, as on the gorgeous, low-key love song "Keep Me In Mind." The big development is Loggins' steady progression and increasing independence; there are no co-writes, and Loggins' numbers are treated with equally complicated arrangements.
Of course he's annoyingly schmaltzy, and all of his lyrics are drab love poems. But his up-tempo "Time To Space" is the grooviest thing on the record.
Another difference is the lack of pandering 50's nostalgia, simple-minded country, and silly Caribbeanisms - which probably explains the lack of a hit single this time around. Instead, this is a good healthy dollop of 70s soft-rock pablum intended for the faithful, less offensive but also less memorable than usual. (JA)
Head Over Heels (1975)
Their second live album. (JA)
Native Sons (Loggins & Messina: 1976)
Their fifth and last studio album, and a substantial hit like the others. However, it continued their two year-plus drought of Top 40 singles. You can hear why: with the partnership barely functioning, Messina's usual creativity is overwhelmed by pure bombast and saccharine ("When I Was A Child"), courtesy of outside co-writers, male backup vocalists, and horn and string arrangers, including legendary hack Marty Paich.
Messina usually pairs himself with singer/songwriter Murray MacLeod, and barely even appears on Loggins' numbers.
Despite the elaborate production, only one tune qualifies as a Messina pop symphony ("Pretty Princess" ) - but he does come up with a grating 50's sock hop sendup ("Boogie Man"), and a goofy, intricately arranged hillbilly pop-rocker ("Sweet Marie").
And Loggins' material is increasingly generic pop ("Fox Fire"; the waltzing, Mexican-ized "My Lady, My Love"), bordering on muzak whenever he slows the pace ("Native Son").
With barely a hint of the imaginativeness or personality that salvaged their earlier albums, this is a forgettable listen not worth spending money on.
The band is augmented by a full horn section, an extra percussionist in addition to Milt Holland, and a fiddler.
Loggins released the first of his many solo records after the pair split in 1977. (JA)
Rose Of Cimarron (1976)
I've Got A Reason (Furay: 1976)
With SHF defunct, Furay began a solo career that lasted at least through the early 80s. This was his first outing; I've been told it's pretty much harmless. (JA)
Indian Summer (1977)
This was Schmit's last appearance with Poco. For all intents and purposes, his flight to the Eagles turned Poco into the Cotton-Young band. (JA)
Dance A Little Light (Furay: 1978)
Tim Schmit guested here. Apparently Furay had started to get into a heavy Christian thing, although it didn't yet affect the lyrics too much. (JA)
Ironically, the latest incarnation of Poco started out with a major hit record. It was the band's only album ever to go gold, and I believe it included both of their only two Top 40 hits: "Crazy Love" and "Heart Of The Night." (JA)
I Still Have Dreams (Furay: 1979)
Furay just barely hit the Top 40 singles chart with the title track, the only time he did this. Tim Schmit is apparently on the record. (JA)
Under The Gun (1980)
Blue And Gray (1981)
Messina (Messina: 1981)
A really classy pop record, although it's dull and generic. There are a few medium-name guests here like Jim Horn, Chuck Findley, David Grisman, and Victor Feldman, but mostly it's Messina's band and Messina's show: he produced, wrote almost everything (just a few co-writes), sings lead, and of course handles all the guitars. He ends up with an earnest, intricately produced, highly harmonized soft-rock love-song vibe, but it's a ton more tasteful than the Loggins & Messina records: no gimmicky 50's nostalgia, no insincere country-western flavorings, and much less horn/woodwind overload.
Better yet, it's mostly acoustic and avoids any of the 80s synth mania that ruined so much contemporary rock. The record's only real turkey is the long, boring, smarmy, overwrought light funk duet "Stay The Night," with Messina and mega-babe Pauline Wilson trading screeches. There are also some forgettable light rock tunes, but they're balanced by a few near-masterpieces like the evocative "Whispering Waters." Messina continues to put out solo records; his latest, Watching The River Run, came out in 1996 - the second side consists entirely of revived Springfield/Poco/L & M tunes. (JA)
Cowboys & Englishmen (1982)
Seasons Of Change (Furay: 1982)
This is a minor-label record, unlike his previous three, and may be impossible to find. Apparently it's heavily religious. (JA)
Ghost Town (1982)
At this point Poco switched lables from MCA to Atlantic. (JA)
Playin' It Cool (Schmit: 1984)
The Cotton-Young version of "Poco" had released a steady stream of albums up to this point, but this was their last release until the reunion album Legacy.
Tim Schmit is on this particular disc, but I'm not sure if it's as a guest or as a band member, because he had a solo album out the same year. (JA)
Timothy B (Schmit: 1987)
The original lineup, including Meisner and Furay but not Schmit, reformed for exactly one reunion record. Unfortunately, it seems more like producer David Cole's idea of a clever scam than a genuine collaboration. Everyone but Grantham trades off lead vocals, and ironically it's Meisner's first appearance as either a vocalist or a fully credited band member (he'd gotten a small "guest" credit on Pickin' Up The Pieces).
But Furay and Meisner are mostly stuck with donations like the crassly nostalgic "When It All Began" and Richard Marx's "Nothin' To Hide," with Furay's one new number being a thinly veiled Christian testimonial ("If It Wasn't For You"); and Messina merely recycles a couple tunes he'd written earlier in the 80s.
Meanwhile, there are so many L.A. studio session cats lurking in the background - Leland Sklar, Jeff Porcaro, and of course Paulinho Da Costa - that it's hard to tell what if anything is the "real" Poco.
The lyrics are the usual romantic tripe, and the production is generic, contemporary soft rock with only a few hints of the group's original personality, like Young's wild soloing on "Rough Edges" and the clever riffing, breezy harmony, and nimble guitar work of Messina's three numbers - so it's possibly a bargain for Messina fanatics, but not for anyone else. Not to be confused with Legend. (JA)
Tell Me The Truth (Schmit: 1990)
Okay: it sucks.
Proving just how much of an L.A. insider he is, Schmit goes here with the standard gamut of session players and plug-in producers. There's even a Will Jennings co-write (the drab blues shuffle "Down By The River").
Admittedly, Schmit and guitarist Bruce Gaitsch wrote almost everything, and on most tracks they add only a drummer and one or two more players like guitarist Rick Vito.
But the soulless, generic sound doesn't reflect anyone's personality, much less Schmit's.
Electronic drums, screaming corporate rock guitars, layers of monotonous harmony vocals, and clichéd love lyrics emasculate every song - the only stab at being Meaningful is a terrible "We Are The World"-style heartstring-puller ("For The Children").
Not even guest shots by Don Henley and Danny Kortchmar on the title track raise the excitement level.
A couple of tunes are reminiscent of Schmit's early Poco efforts, and "All I Want To Do" sounds pleasantly like a mid-period, acoustic Beatles love song, but such things merely emphasize his lack of imagination.
I'm just lucky I didn't pay more than $1 for this thing.
Produced by Schmit, Gaitch, and two others; guests include Jeff Porcaro, Jai Winding, and Rita Coolidge. (JA)
After reading all of that, you'd better think twice.