POCO/The Epic Years 1972-76 (5CD box) review!

Alongside The Flying Burrito Brothers, Michael Nesmith & The First National Band, Rick Nelson & The Stone Canyon Band, and The Eagles, Poco was a pioneering band that laid the foundation for Country Rock and wrote the blueprint for Americana. Often overshadowed by Gram Parsons and The Eagles, Poco has never received the proper amount of respect and adulation that they so richly deserved. Remember, this is a band whose various line-ups have featured former members of Buffalo Springfield and future members of The Eagles (amongst others)! Sure, Poco has had hits, sold a lot of records, and continue to tour to this day, but their back catalog is often overlooked.  Thankfully, Hine/Cherry Red Records is stepping up to the plate with the five CD box set THE EPIC YEARS: 1972-1976.

Poco was originally formed by Richie Furay, Jim Messina and Rusty Young when Buffalo Springfield split in 1968. With the addition of George Grantham (drums) and bassist Randy Meisner, the band played their first gig at the Troubadour in October 1968.  The quintet signed to Epic Records in 1969.

This box set picks up with their fourth album, A GOOD FEELIN’ TO KNOW (1972). By this time, Jim Messina had been replaced by Paul Cotton while Randy Meisner’s vacant spot had been filled by Timothy B. Schmit. The album still retains a strong link to the ‘60s but the band was in full Country Rock flight, exploring musical avenues that reeked of marijuana and early ‘70s excesses.  And yes, it was glorious. At this point, Poco was not that far off from the musical universe inhabited by Neil Young. By this time, the band had found their groove and were having a blast blending Rock, Country, and Folk. The hooks are subtle but undeniable and their harmonies add so much depth to those melodies. (CD features two bonus tracks.)

CRAZY EYES (1973) was, in hindsight, a turning point.  The album had a slightly tougher edge and more cohesive focus, which highlighted all the different elements of Poco’s sound. The album’s musical palette was more varied, showcasing the depths of the individual band members’ talents. In many ways a musical tour-de-force for Poco, CRAZY EYES was an ambitious album that is still cited as one of the band’s finest releases. Even though the album – and especially the title track – brought the band a lot of attention, it proved to be Richie Furay’s swan song with the band.  One can only imagine the commercial heights they could have reached had he held out for just one more album… (CD features three bonus tracks.)

Down one member, the band followed up with SEVEN (1974), an album that proved to be better than it should have been. When a band records an ambitious album and then loses one of their main creative forces, that is a difficult issue to overcome when attempting to maintain momentum and get an album out within a year.  However, Cotton, Young, Schmit and Grantham did a grand job in maintaining that Poco quality control. Musically, the album is less varied than CRAZY EYES but everything else is firmly in place: Country, Rock, melodies, harmonies, and a real sense of purpose. The album does feature some heavier guitar work on spots but overall, it showcases four talented chaps who refused to give up. Jim Messina and Burton Cummings offered musical assistance on the album.


Still on a creative roll, Poco offered up a second album in 1974: CANTAMOS. Regardless of what had happened over the previous year with the departure of Furay, the remaining quartet where firing on all cylinders with this, their seventh studio album. Perhaps inspired by the success of fellow Country Rock band The Eagles, CANTAMOS is a blast of pure energy that is infectious from beginning to end. Even though their records weren’t scaling the charts quite like Henley, Frey & Co., Poco were every bit their equals musically and vocally. Perhaps the only thing keeping Poco from achieving the same kind of success was that Poco may have leaned a little to the Country side while The Eagles were moving closer to Rock. It’d be easy to say that CANTAMOS is the perfect gateway album if you wanted to dip into Poco’s catalog but, to be honest, any of the albums in this set are perfect introductions to their ‘70s output. This album would be their final album for Epic before moving over to the ABC Records label in 1975.

The final disc in this set is LIVE, a set recorded in 1974 but not released until 1976 when the band began to achieve a respectable amount of commercial success. This set of recordings is solid proof that the band was able to reproduce their sound on stage, which is a bonus.  Or perhaps they went back and doctored it up in the studio?  Either way, it is a nice alternative way to experience their under-appreciated magic in a different setting.

This box set is a treasure trove of great songs and performances. If you’ve never immersed yourself in the music of Poco, this is a great place to start. Sometimes, a greatest hits collection doesn’t offer the listener enough variety… My advice? Rush out and purchase THE EPIC YEARS 1972-1976 pronto, Tonto!

Your pal,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

POCO
THE EPIC YEARS: 1972-76 (5CDS)
(HNE/Cherry Red Records)

Available NOW!