|Loggins & Messina - Sittin' in Again: The Best|
|Music Disc Reviews Audio CD|
|Written by Stephen K. Peeples|
|Tuesday, 24 May 2005|
In the early-to-mid-1970s, Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina were at the top of their game, the only duo then giving Hall & Oates any competition in the race to overtake The Everly Brothers as the Rock Era’s top twosome.
One of the architects of the late-‘60s California hip(pie) country/rock sound, songwriter/ singer/guitarist/producer Messina was a co-founder of Buffalo Springfield (and produced most of their final studio album, Last Time Around), then Poco. After splitting Poco in 1970, he hustled a six-album deal with Columbia (Poco had been on Epic, a Columbia imprint) as a producer.
From Washington State, singer, songwriter and guitarist Loggins was a staff writer for a Hollywood song publisher in 1970 when he landed four tracks (including “House at Pooh Corner”) on the Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy LP by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, another pioneering West Coast country-folk-rock outfit. Loggins landed a solo deal with Columbia, with Messina on board to produce his debut album.
The musical chemistry between the two turned the sessions into a collaboration, so instead of being Loggins’ solo debut, the resulting January 1972 album was titled Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina Sittin’ In. With the country/folk-flavored pop hits “Vahevala” and “Danny’s Song” plus a remake of “House at Pooh Corner,” a soft-rock FM favorite, the album was on the Billboard top album chart for two years and scored RIAA gold.
Loggins & Messina recorded five more original studio albums, an album of covers, two double-live albums and a single-CD greatest hits album. Most of them went gold, some also went platinum, and more than 16 million were sold. But by mid-1976, the partnership had run its course, and the duo split to pursue solo careers.
Loggins was especially ready, his long apprenticeship completed. Starting with 1977’s Celebrate Me Home, he’s recorded more than a dozen solo albums (not counting soundtrack hits and best-of packages), 2003’s It’s About Time the most recent. He went from being the understudy to the star, far overshadowing Messina, who recorded five solo albums between Oasis in 1979 and 1996’s Watching the River Run, reunited with Poco for the 1989 album Legacy, and established the Songwriters’ Performance Workshop to provide a place for aspiring tunesmiths to develop their art and craft. Once a musician’s musician….
Being an original Buffalo Springfield and Poco fan, my entre to Loggins & Messina was via the latter member of the duo. Generally, I liked his material better; his lyrics, musicianship and studio savvy were stellar. I thought some of Loggins’ material was precious, bordering on schmaltz. Predictably, the pop stuff is what got the most AM play. My girlfriends loved it (my wife still does). I usually changed the channel or fast-forwarded (remember cassettes?) to one of the usually better album tracks.
To these ears, though, Loggins & Messina sounded best in concert. I found this out a bit late in the game, circa 1974, when I picked up their first live album, On Stage, wanted to see them live myself, and caught them at the Universal Amphitheater (so long ago, the place was still an open-air venue).
My initial fear about drowning in a sea of sap was quickly allayed by the musicianship the stars and their backing band displayed. Live, L&M had much greater musical credibility. It started with the singular blend of the duo’s voices, and their ability between them to play just about any instrument with strings. Guys like Al Garth and Michael Omartian could play nearly everything else, and Rusty Young, another Poco refugee, kicked in the pedal steel on the twangers. L&M’s material had more depth than one might figure from what radio played; their sound combined pure and hybrid rock, country, gospel, soul and even jazz. Even the sappy stuff was so well done, you had to give them props.
The centerpiece of their set from a musician’s standpoint was “Angry Eyes,” from the duo’s eponymous second album, essentially a country-flavored rock song (“What a shot you would be/If you could shoot at me/With those angry eyes”) bookending an extended section with jazzy sax and flute solos. At the Amphitheater, they earned a standing O at the end of this.
So 31 years later, when this Loggins & Messina Live: Sittin’ in Again at the Santa Barbara Bowl reunion CD landed on my desk for review, the first thing I did was track forward to #11, “Angry Eyes.” If the duo and band sounded as tight on “Angry Eyes” as they did 30-odd years ago – if they could still get it up vocally and instrumentally on this tour de force – then the other 12 songs would probably be worth a listen, too. “Angry Eyes” didn’t disappoint, so I went back to listen to the set from the beginning.
After little to no contact for three decades, Loggins and Messina had reunited casually in 2004 when Jim sat in with Kenny (déjà vu all over again) at a benefit concert at the venerable Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara, and both guys felt the old magic. Then they worked with Legacy, Columbia’s reissues division, on compiling the definitive L&M anthology released in early 2005, and decided to put a band together for a 30th anniversary tour, which included another stop in SB for a full-on concert at the County Bowl.
As they did back in the ‘70s, L&M shared lead and backing vocals, as well as all manner of acoustic and electric guitars. Behind them at the Bowl were complementary players of equal caliber: Shen Von Schroeck (bass), Steve Di Stanislao (drums), the Two Gabes (Dixon on keyboards and Witcher on fiddle and dobro), Jeff Nathanson (sax, ewi) and Steve Nieves (sax, percussion).
Their set resembled a classic L&M set – the first half more mellow acoustic and country-flavored tunes, and the second more electric and rock and roll. Here, “Watching the River Run,” a reflective L&M collaboration from 1973’s Full Sail album, allowed the duo to display their still-intricate vocal weave and acoustic guitar interplay, and got the music flowing smoothly.
Thankfully, they got “House at Pooh Corner” out of the way next. Maybe everyone knew the words at one time, but when Kenny threw it to the audience to sing the “Count all the bees in the hive/Chase all the clouds from the sky” line, the crowd wasn’t that loud. Since this song was released, I’ve raised two kids to college age, and still think it’s too precious (my wife just punched me in the elbow).
The country section of the set – “Listen to a Country Song”/”Holiday Hotel” (by Al Garth/Messina), “Back to Georgia” (Loggins) and “Trilogy: Lovin’ Me (Murray MacLeod/Messina); “Make a Woman Feel Wanted” (Loggins and Messina); and “Peace of Mind” (Messina) – traveled down a country road or two before arriving at church as Rev. Loggins sang the praises of inner peace as though possessed by a higher power.
L&M’s “Your Mama Don’t Dance” kicked the show back into secular territory; the rhythm section rocked solidly and the guitar licks smoked, though the lead solo sounded off-mike. The bit about the longhair getting pulled over by the cops was a real throwback to the early ‘70s, which, as everyone knows, was just an extension of the ‘60s.
After one last foray into schmaltz with Loggins’ “A Love Song,” the band got into L&M’s “FM side,” if you will, with the slow, bluesy and still-relevant “Same Old Wine” (with updated lyrics about a stolen election and a pack of presidential lies) and the equally pertinent “Change is Gonna Come” – both Messina songs, not surprisingly.
The set lightened up with Loggins’ “Vahevala,” that delightful, we-be-sailin’ rock ‘n’ roll sea shanty about sailin’ off Jamaica, let’s go “smoke a keg” and party island-style. In the instrumental jammin’ at the end, I heard echoes of Buffalo Springfield live, at their best. A tasty twin-guitar phrase wrapped up the seven-minute track.
The signature intro to “Angry Eyes” (an L&M co-composition) began before the “Vahevala” applause subsided, and L&M and band kept up the intensity for another 7:54. It sounded damn close to the duo and their original band – which one should expect, given their past penchant for perfection.
The set-closer is a stop-on-a-dime version of “Nobody But You,” the uptempo Messina love song and a hit single from the original Sittin’ In LP. Nathanson and Nieves handle the horn lines with precision and soul.
By this time, L&M and band have established enough cred to sneak in one more silly love song – an acoustic “Danny’s Song,” the Loggins hit from Sittin’ In. This completes the nostalgia-fest for the audience and the performers – and the irony of all those upscale Santa Barbarans singing, “Even though we ain’t got money/I’m so in love with ya, honey…” adds to the fun.
Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina produced the audio, which was recorded by Elliot Scheiner and Guy Charbonneau using the Le Mobile remote facility. Anthony Catalano headed the ProTools crew, which included Ian Charbonneau on Audio 1 and Zach McCormley on Audio 2. Darcy Proper mastered at Sony Music Studios. Heard through Sony MDR-XD400 headphones, the sound is bright and lively, the vocals and acoustic instruments warm, the electric guitars ultra-clean and usually distortion-free. While it’s not a surround mix, the audience sounds so present you sometimes get the feeling it’s an incredibly professional audience recording.