THE ONE AFTER THE BIG ONE: America, HOMECOMING
Few bands hit it out of the park with their first album quite like America did with their self-titled 1971 debut and its indelible single “A Horse with No Name.” The song is still played on classic rock and adult contemporary radio today, and the album is considered to be an early peak of the folk-rock sound that gave rise to the decade’s popular singer-songwriter movement.
Thus, expectations were high for the band’s sophomore album, HOMECOMING, which saw release in late 1972, and America delivered. Among the album’s many treasures is another classic song of longing and a whole lot of harmony and acoustic picking, which, applied to songwriting of a very high order, helped cement America’s commercial fortunes.
The album’s big hit is “Ventura Highway,” a song every seeker, road poet and runaway idealist in early-’70s California carried in his or her heart. The young man in the song pictures California as a beacon of hope and freedom, and the highway a means of escape. True, by the end of the song, he’s hopping on a train, but that’s just to get him out of where he is, where he’s been. The future stretches out ahead, the unknown expressed in the wordless chorus.
Not all the tracks on HOMECOMING are as mystic, though many are just as alluring. “To Each His Own” is a piano ballad whose melody sweetens the ominous tone and sad sentiments.
“Saturn Nights” likewise uses slowly proceeding piano chords to nudge “[o]ne more song about movin' along the highway” through its languid pace and air of longing. A highlight on the record is “Head and Heart,” a John Martyn song that implores a lover to give herself fully to him, with the promise he’ll do the same in return. The band’s voices and nuanced instrumentation meet Martyn’s sweet words and music head-on, and an unsung classic is born.
There are any number of similarities to America’s contemporaries on HOMECOMING. Dewey Bunnell’s voice, for one, has the same gentleness and timbre as Neil Young’s, a fact that is quite apparent on “Moon Song” and “Cornwall Blank.” When the band harmonizes, there is a definite connection to artists like Poco or Crosby, Stills & Nash, who also plied their trade while weaving together disparate voices into a glorious whole (“Don’t Cross the River,” is particularly Poco-rific). “Cornwall Blank” also features some wonderful guitar work, reminiscent of Stephen Stills in spots, particularly in the song’s coda.
HOMECOMING was a Top 10 album, and with it, America avoided the dreaded “sophomore slump.” In the record’s grooves, you’ll find everything that made the band the fan favorite they were; give it a listen to hear and understand where all that love was directed.
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