Album Review

Richie Furay - In the Country

Give Furay credit for remaining in the game at this late stage. But it’s not too much to expect something more substantial, original and compelling from a guy with a standing in Americana history as impressive as his.

Holler Country Music

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As a founding member of Buffalo Springfield and Poco - two of country rock’s (or should we say Americana’s) earliest and arguably most influential bands - Richie Furay should be heralded as a key player in the genre’s formation.

But, unlike his fellow group members Neil Young, Steven Stills and Timothy B. Schmidt, he never followed up those early successes. He’s now relegated to little more than a footnote in music history when he should be acknowledged as a significant influence in American roots rock.

It hasn’t been for lack of trying.

Leaving Poco in 1973 after Crazy Eyes, one of their finest releases, then connecting with J.D. Souther and Chris Hillman in the misguided attempt to be Crosby, Stills and Nash as the Souther-Hillman-Furay band, the singer/songwriter ultimately converted to a Christian artist.Even with a clutch of respectable albums in that vein (he also became a minister) which shifted away from the twangier influences of his defining bands, his commercial fortunes never recovered.

Now, on this first studio set in seven years, he gives it another go.

The frustrations start before pushing play. Despite the extended wait between albums, Furay hasn’t written any new songs. Rather, he covers material penned or popularized by everyone from John Denver to Garth Brooks and Alabama. It’s disappointing for a guy who composed such classics as ‘Crazy Eyes’, ‘A Child’s Claim to Fame’, ‘Kind Woman’ and ‘A Good Feeling to Know’. As if to compensate for this, he includes a new version of his Poco winner ‘Pickin’ Up the Pieces’ as a bonus digital addition.

The advance promotional notes quote Furay saying “Rock and roll and country, that’s what I’m really about.” Strangely there is little of either in these dozen selections that veer so far towards slick, heavily commercialized pop that even veteran Dan Dugmore’s (the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Poco, Linda Ronstadt) ever-present pedal steel can barely push them back to anything rootsy.

A sprightly version of Keith Urban’s ‘Somebody Like You’ makes a promising start. Furay’s instantly recognizable vocals (hardly changed from his prime as he approaches 80) singing positive, life affirming lyrics (“I don’t want to take this life for granted like I used to do”) push the mid-tempo pop-rocker, as a terse guitar solo percolates the proceedings. If that energy continued, this would be a worthy comeback.

But the mood then downshifts to often sappy ballads, sometimes accompanied by syrupy strings and a choir of sentimental backing vocals, which dominate the album, leaving any trace of rocking far from the sonic palette.

Not surprisingly, a subtle sense of religion connects much of the material. While his versions of hits like John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ and Cohn’s signature ‘Walking in Memphis’ are pleasant and delivered with genuine feeling, neither redefines the already over-recorded originals. The vibe escalates slightly on Alabama’s ‘I’m in a Hurry (And Don’t Know Why)’ and his heartfelt interpretation of the Ricky Nelson standard ‘Lonesome Town’ is agreeable if not revelatory.

The majority of tunes fall into a rather sterile 70s West Coast vibe, logical since producer Val Garay (Neil Diamond, Pablo Cruise, James Taylor) has a history of similarly styled work. It’s all professionally crafted, satisfying background music for Sunday mornings yet is a million miles from anything Stills or especially Young would have their names attached to.

Give Furay credit for remaining in the game at this late stage. But it’s not too much to expect something more substantial, original and compelling from a guy with a standing in Americana history as impressive as his.

6/10

In the Country is out on Friday 8th July via Renew Records / BMG