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Ideo reinvents the shopping cart, part 3.

Ideo reinvents the shopping cart, part 2.

Ideo reinvents the shopping cart, part 1.

New Club Car ad for local magazines. Apparently this home has an “alternative vehicle” for every driver in the family.

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What makes a favorite album? | Part 6: Mother Lode, by Loggins & Messina

Background: My last post (“So,” by Peter Gabriel) was way back in May, the one before that (“Sgt. Pepper”) in March. Those were #5 and #4, respectively, in the series. By now, with #6 in the series of “What makes a favorite album,” I’ve carried this on for more then eight (8!) months.

It’s all about the five things that make an album special for me.

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Loggins & Messina’s “Mother Lode” was their fourth studio album, released in 1974. It was recorded and produced in Messina’s home studio in Ojai, CA, which is telling, since so much of what I like about it is its production.

[Link to Spotify playlist.  Link to Wikipedia entry.]

"Career defining," say most reviewers. Well, it may have almost been career ending.

Anyway, in cryptic, almost note-taking fashion, I offer the following. (And the process of writing it was largely “note-taking” from several of my recent listens.)

Probably just enough tension between the duo to make this similar to a circa 1967 Beatles album.

The continuity here isn’t in the lyrics or themes or even in a recurring hook or riff; it’s in the production (very high quality) and in the musicianship. I’ll repeat: it’s certainly not in the lyricism.

In fact, I don’t even listen to the lyrics (even when I’m singing along. They really aren’t very good. The vocals are “played”; they feel more like another instrument … a good one though. Maybe it’s time that has betrayed the lyrics, but I lived through this album as a teenager and college student. They didn’t make a lot of sense even then.

General notes

  • Messina’s guitar style, an accentuated plucking, is unique
  • Lots of great percussion, much of it best described better as “effects,” the decorations on a Christmas tree
  • For instance: the piano clinking at the end of “Move on”; the “Don’t try” spoken part in the same song
  • And, man, those horns—there are, seemingly, saxes everywhere—and great flute pieces, even harmonica on a couple of cuts
  • As was the case with “Angry Eyes” from an earlier Loggins & Messina Lp, also some of Messina’s POCO work, the jazz-like instrumentals are worth the price of admission; more than half of the cuts feature long, well-orchestrated instrumentals
  • This is lush production perhaps at the zenith of its popularity, right up there with anything Richard Perry did for Carly Simon or Harry Nilsson. Several songs begin simple, but nothing stays that way. “Brighter Days,” for instance; the simple opening lasts less than a minute with an almost orchestrated backing vocal coming in to join Loggins’ primary vocal and mandolin

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Song by song review

Growin’

Great opening. Wonderful, low-pitched back beat. Crisp sounds, from the backing vocals to the maracas throughout. “Sunshine and rain keep the fields ever green” (yuck). Messina’s plucking guitar (yeah). Sax comes in for solo, building to crescendo that repeats chorus. Wonderful outro and close.

Be Free

A simple opening: mandolin, bass, flute and percussion, but it doesn’t last long. “I want to get away and live my life near rivers and trees. I want to spend my days making rhyme and be free.” Whew. Great, gathering backing vocals in verse 2. You can hear Loggins’ distinctive voice in the background, but it’s not overpowering the way some/most of his solo work sounds. The first long instrumental on this song. Beautifully staged, beginning with mandolin, but eventually including everything but the kitchen sink. Reminds me of Greek dance music. Then a little Irish jig or folk fiddle diddle. Even a dueling violin with mandolin. A lot going on here, but I find Messina’s pre-occupation with long instrumentals the highlight of his influence on all of his band work … and sorely missing on his solo albums.

Changes

The most cringe-worthy lyric on the album comes on this song, but if you can get past it (I did, more than 40 years ago), it can become a favorite track on an album of favorites. A different kind of instrumentation, more repetitive, and the vocals aren’t up to the same standard on most of the rest of the Lp. Could be closer to a Jim Messina individual song. But the ending, wow: great crashes and then silence!

Brighter Days

Another simple opening, a mandolin and guitar. Soaring vocals from Loggins as the song builds to its crescendo. When the fiddle comes in about midway, the song takes on a distinctive personality, with background vocals rivaling Loggins’s slightly exaggerated voice. “In the sycamores …”

Time to Space

This is the classic L&M ensemble song. Everyone gets a piece on this. The opening presages the ending, the flute anticipating the bridge vocal (is that Larry Sims’ voice? no credit to the sidemen, who are often front-and-center on a good Loggins & Messina song): “When every day becomes an endless race, you must take your time, it’s time to space.” Lots of different paces, instrumentation galore. Starts out as Loggins’ adoration of “her loving’”; then it soars with saxophone and bongos. Wow. Great backing vocals, with snappy phrasing. Bold undercurrent of saxes. Who the hell knows what it’s about (probably nothing): “When will I begin to master mine?” It’s almost six minutes long, but it’s more songs stitched together than “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” Yet, the worst ending of any song on the album, with up to 20 seconds before it peters out.

Lately, My Love

Back in the day, this was the first song on Side 2. A great opening, with a soaring vocal from Messina. Maybe his vocals are a little affected, but that’s part of this band’s sound. Magical guitar solo, yet it’s not off the cuff; you get the feeling it’s measured, just right. “What a wonderful world this must be / to put up with someone like me.” And this ending is like a gymnast sticking it. If “Time to Space” ends weakly, this one is perfect. And it’s a perfect lead-in to …

Move On

Loggins’ voice in background is at its best here. Like the best of Michael McDonald. The long instrumental section feels like the reason for the song; perhaps the opening lyrics are only to get us there: “You’d better move on.” You hardly know it’s a guitar solo. And the transition to the sax solo is masterful. Imaginative. All over in terms of range. Stereo does this song a great justice. Loud, noise canceling headphones even better.

Get a Hold

… reminds me of a short, not quite thought-out Beatles diddy, but this song’s features are almost fully baked. Maybe because it fades in at the beginning and fades out at the end. Lush backing vocals and great percussive rhythms make this. “You’re making me a mess. If not for someone else, get a hold on yourself for me.”

Keep Me in Mind

Neither Loggins nor Messina doing lead vocals here. More chord changing squeaky sounds. Almost flamenco. Great long instrumental. World music building to a kind of “LA Confidential” drama. “When darkness resolves to slumber, remember that I’m your number one.” Ends with Eastern tabla.

Fever Dream

Opens with a lonely harmonica. Loggins in falsetto. “Thunder is born in our eyes.” “And we see them, four horsemen, black judgment, apocalypse is nigh.” Puh-leese.

When I get to the end, I want to start over, kind of like the way I feel at the end of Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” when “Jungleland” makes me want to go back to “Thunder Road.” Go back to “Growin’.” It sets things right again.

I cringe at what friends who really know music will think of this pick. But for 40 years I’ve listened to this album and want to listen over and over. It’s not a masterpiece the way “Dark Side of the Moon” or “Who’s Next?” or “Sgt. Pepper” is, but it’s on my list simply for its listenability.

This from an Amazon reviewer: “Lyrically, it spoke of friendship, freedom, lifework, disillusion, death, unrequited love (and what did it leave out?) with a depth and magic that few albums ever possessed. Musically, it was Messina’s most intricate writing & production; Loggins’ brightest shower of sparks of all his musical alchemy. And this is the greatest ‘autumn’ album of all [whatever that means]. It stands up yet and the mystery of it binds me still.”

Feeling a little overwhelmed? Stumped by a problem that seems out of reach? Do what Dean Wagner told me to do today. Watch “How to do it.”