Album: Heritage: Home Recordings/Demos 1970-1973
Label: Omnivore Recordings
Release Date: 11.17.17
Sort of a scrapbook of the early, unfinished works of ‘70s soft-rock golden boys America, Heritage: Home Recordings/Demos 1970-1973 is worth flipping through. Enough clues to predict their rise to fame are present in these imperfect, yet surprisingly listenable, original drafts. All the necessary elements were there from the beginning.
Recorded at the Record Plant West in 1972, an early take on “Ventura Highway” is one of the archival collection’s 10 previously unissued tracks—six others have already seen the light of day—on this illuminating, vault-emptying release. Played with more vigor, but still light and wistful, this version has a more pronounced bass line and unexpectedly clever twists of clearly defined acoustic guitar that stray from the beaten path, but the signature close, breezy vocal harmonies and contoured, sweeping folk-pop melodicism that made the song—and America themselves—so enduring are unmistakable.
Comprising a clutch of 1970 demos America made at Chalk Farm Studios (before being signed to Warner Bros. a year later) and others conceived in 1972 at Buzz Studios, this is a fascinating peek behind the curtains. Dewey Bunnell’s concise liner notes detail how the band worked off these “sketches” to later piece together fully formed songs, as audible studio discussions over songs enhance the feeling of being a fly on the wall.
A neat, tidy package, Heritage: Home Recordings/Demos 1970-1973 is not some poorly recorded junk draw of half-formed ideas. Even at a larval stage of development, America’s songwriting craftsmanship was remarkably sophisticated—very little retouching is needed to enhance the delicate beauty and dimly lit glow of an intimate “Riverside” or the wintry design of “Sea of Destiny.” The gentle bounce and easy hooks of a piano-driven “Goodbye” and the “Rainbow Song” don’t grab so much as they whisk you away, while the strange psychedelia of “Satan (Donkey Jaw)” reveals more adventurous inclinations. It all makes America seem great again.