Three Dog Night

American Pastime

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Bob Monaco, who did some limited production work on the group's previous release -- the Jimmy Ienner supervised Coming Down Your Way -- takes over the production reigns totally here on a more cohesive but still undefined version of the Three Dog Night. Danny Hutton seems to be missing in action -- and not in the band spin-off S.S.Fools -- while this outing feels like a "Two Dog Night" project with the ominous credit "all selections mixed by Chuck and Cory." A couple of decades later, Chuck Negron's name would be erased from the band's website -- totally erased from the visibility of Cory Wells and Danny Hutton's ensemble (isn't that like trying to evict Ginger Baker from Cream???) , so this album is a unique look at what Chuck and Cory did while they were still talking! "Everybody Is a Masterpiece" leads off the disc, the "theme" tune to this album with its picture-frame cover, and you'd swear you are listening to -- the Spinners. As much of a jolt as that is, keep in mind the previous disc sounded like slick "roots" music compared to this quasi-disco recording. Alan O'Day wrote the phenomenal "Heavy Church" from the Naturally LP, perhaps the best non-hit track the group ever recorded. Here they do a strong version of his chestnut "Easy Evil." It's a steamy, classy and interesting take, but up against renditions by Lulu, Dusty Springfield and Genya Ravan, well, it is hard to top the perfection those three gals flirted with on this song. "Mellow Down" captures Three Dog Night from an earlier time, but it is simply not enough to reestablish the group that invented the art of finding raw tunes and refining, redefining, arranging and producing them to a unique pop music majesty that so many other acts tried to duplicate. "Hang On" is much too funky but not half as much as the Hoyt Axton song that follows. "Southbound" is no "Joy to the World" and could be Kool & the Gang covering Sly & the Family Stone -- and it is just way too much of a stretch for the group to morph into some kind of faceless nightclub act à la Wild Cherry. Which is the flaw with American Pastime, a loss of identity. This is Three Dog Night searching the way Rare Earth attempted to get back on track. It completely walks away from the music the group performs in concert and in doing so denies a catchy tune like "Dance the Night Away" the opportunity to appeal to the millions who brought this act its fame. Where a Bette Midler could survive 1979's Thighs and Whispers, a dramatic move like this could -- and did -- make the trek back to Top 40 all the more difficult.

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