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All Come to Look for America
on September 14, 2011
In an irony of chance, America's "Back Pages" CD of cover songs was issued and, within a month, former founding member Dan Peek passed away at the age of 60. Founding members Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley have been recording and touring as a duo since the late 70's, even having some singles without Peek and maintaining the trademark harmonies. Still, for those nostalgic for the trio harmonies of "Horse With No Name" or "Sister Golden Hair," this CD is a reminder of a past that can not be revisited.
That said, "Back Pages" stands alone nicely as a covers/tribute type of album, as Bunnell and Beckely chose to go to Nashville and used selected studio perfectionists and special guests to make this into the kind of lite-folk-pop they've always specialized in. Time has coarsened the still recognizable harmonies, and producer Fred Mollin frame the duo with perfect backing. The selections are both typical (Paul Simon, Brian Wilson, Dylan) to surprising (Gin Blossoms, New Radicals). Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger (who co-produced America's last album in 2007) gave them FoW's "Road Song" before issuing on his own album, and America actually sound better with it. Dewey and Gerry take the archness from the FoW version and actually sound sincere when they sweetly chirp "between stops at Cracker Barrel, and 40 movies with Will Farrell..." while dropping a sly nod to "Sister Golden Hair" in the process.
Which is the key to how much you'll enjoy "Back Pages." America are still a sweet confection that has gained a nostalgic burnish as time has passed. On covers like "Caroline, No," which was Brian Wilson's 'old before his time' moment of lost innocence, they pull the song into the future for which it was written. Same for Dylan's "My Back Pages," which closes the CD with the immortal lyric "I was so much older then, I'm younger then than now." When Dylan and The Byrds sang these words, they were rebelling. Sung by a pair of men that were likely taken by the original's force, America sound both understanding of their years and aware of the present. With the loss of Dan Peek, the enjoyable "Back Pages" becomes a memento of past glories and firm statement of present potentials.