DI takes its role as edutainers seriously, and in that spirit weâ€™re spotlighting great albums and choice cuts from 1970-1999 to edify our readersâ€™ musical breadth of knowledge. Each week will focus on a single year and some of the sweetmeat it produced.
â€œHas anybody here seen Jesus? He is gone from where I laid him down. He was always into helping people, and he asked me for a ride to town.â€
Discussions of the late 1960s/early 1970s country rock movement frequently center around The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers and Gram Parsonsâ€™ brief solo output. Itâ€™s a limited view that even when expanded to include Poco, Eagles, Nitty Gritty Dirty Band and New Riders of the Purple Sage there are still usually two major notable absences: Goose Creek Symphony and the equally unheralded yet equally influential and pioneering Michael Nesmith & The First National Band.
Nesmithâ€™s first post-Monkees band let the twang echoes of his earlier work take full flourish, the vision of a newfangled cowboy poet, the sort that had studied a few tumbling tumbleweeds while lysergically switched-on and perhaps pondered the cosmos after a freshly rolled number â€“ the man himself once noted in a Monkees studio outtake, â€œThat doesnâ€™t smell like corn silk!â€ Joined by the core of The First National Band – O.J. “Red” Rhodes (pedal steel guitar), John London (bass) and John Ware (drums) â€“ and supplemented by keyboardists Glen Hardin and Earl P. Ball, Nesmith delivered two stunning cross-pollinations just a few months apart in 1970 with this appealing mixture of tight, talented and loose-limbed players.
Magnetic South arrived in July and saunters in with samba-Western swing hybrid â€œCalico Girlfriend,â€ as warm an invitation as one could want, and then proceeds to wander in a most organic way, Nesmithâ€™s voice revealed without having to compete with the Monkees machinery, a kissing cousin to Buck Owens and the Grateful Dead, hip but also grandly hick, a philosopher in scuffed up boots with a top-flight bunch of shit-pickers at this back. The title loosely references the wandering point on Earthâ€™s Southern Hemisphere but probably more likely directs listeners to the American South and its rich musical heritage as interpreted by this California contingent. With a personalized rag from Red Rhodes [Dirty Impoundâ€™s All-Time Fave-O-Rite Pedal Steel Player], a swoony ballad (â€œJoanneâ€), a swell cover of a 1930s hit (â€œBeyond The Blue Horizon,â€ covered to country-pop success four years later by Lou Christie), and more, Magnetic South is what one calls an auspicious debut.
Loose Salute followed in November with the bandâ€™s collective confidence and personality more to the fore in a set that lets their freak flag wave a bit more freely. While still boot scootinâ€™ gold, their sophomore effort is subtly weirder in the best of ways and the performances shimmer and kick with authority. If there were any expectations of Monkees style pop for Nesmithâ€™s post-TV life they were surely dashed by Loose Salute, which was very much a piece with the expanded sonic horizons that the new FM radio format offered. Thereâ€™s a bit more Latinismo (â€œTengo Amoreâ€), a boffo remake of a Monkees cut (â€œListen To The Bandâ€), a country barroom classic (â€œI Fall To Piecesâ€), a hopping tell-off ditty (â€œBye Bye Byeâ€) and more treasures still on this end-to-end charmer, every bit the equal of Parsonsâ€™ over-praised GP and Grievous Angel, which didnâ€™t reach the same musical territory for a few more years, begging the question of who influenced who.
The First National Band only lasted one more album, 1971â€™s Nevada Fighter, completing their â€œRed, White & Blueâ€ trilogy, and for some diehard Nesmith fans (DI included) remains perhaps the most satisfying phase of Mikeâ€™s long, varied career (particularly if one tosses in the sarcastically titled Nez/Red 1972 duo album And The Hits Just Keep On Cominâ€™). There was great swing and cosmic joy to these late 20th century twangers, which resulted in music that is that rarest of things â€“ truly timeless.
For photos and other tidbits about this short-lived band, check out the fab First National Band Facebook Page.
A trio of selections from each album for yoâ€™ enjoyment!