Craig Fuller / Eric Kaz

Craig Fuller/Eric Kaz

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Craig Fuller and Eric Kaz left behind the underappreciated country-rock outfit American Flyer in 1977, but they had no better luck as a duo with their 1978 album Craig Fuller/Eric Kaz. In the liner notes to the 2015 Real Gone reissue -- the first-ever domestic digital release of this record -- Kaz claims their label Columbia chose to focus their energies on Toto's debut, a decision that helped seal the commercial fate of the record, but the album turned into something of a cult favorite among '70s singer/songwriter aficionados. Among those fans, according to an interview with Kaz in Ed Osborne's liner notes in the Real Gone release, was Garth Brooks, who bought so many copies of the relatively rare record that Eric couldn't find a copy himself. It's possible to hear some of Brooks on Craig Fuller/Eric Kaz -- it's there in the sensitive, soft melodies, songs that unfold to reveal their heart -- but in first-time producer Val Garay, there are also hints of the lushness of SoCal soft rock, particularly on the record's relaxed midtempo grooves. Here, the nicely understated soulfulness of Fuller's leads -- he's an expert on lying back, never getting in the way of the songs but never disappearing into the sumptuous surroundings -- draw a bit of attention, but the record resonates due to its nine originals. The duo collaborate on only two songs -- the lightly strutting "Let the Fire Burn All Night" and the glistening single "Annabella" -- but their originals complement each other expertly, with the insistent cheer of Fuller's "Feel That Way Again" setting up the aching melancholy of Kaz's "Cry Like a Rainstorm," a situation that's echoed later in the album when Eric's sweet, symphonic "The Ways of a Woman" is offset by Craig's punchy "Fool for You." It's not a yin-yang situation where one songwriter is tougher than the other, but rather the two gain strength from each other in both performance and material. They feel like an expert match, which is why the commercial non-performance of Craig Fuller/Eric Kaz is baffling -- this is a sound that sells, wrapping up songs with broad appeal. It may not have been a hit at the time, but listening to it all these years later, it's easy to get seduced by its soft, assured touch -- and to see why Garth Brooks bought as many copies of it as he could find.

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