Pure Prairie League

Firin' Up

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Producer John Ryan worked with a number of bands from different genres -- the Allman Brothers, Santana, Rare Earth, Iron Butterfly, and Styx as well as techno-pop group Animotion -- and his stamp helps steer a veteran group into a new decade. Though there are no original members from the first Pure Prairie League disc, this is the most significant album by the group since their second, Bustin' Out, which featured the hit "Amie" as well as new mainstays drummer Billy Hinds and keyboardist Michael Connor. Vince Gill's second outing with the group lands two Top 40 hits, the exquisite "Let Me Love You Tonight," which hit Top Ten as well as number one adult contemporary, and the driving "I'm Almost Ready," which went Top 35 five months later. Gill writes 60 percent of the material here and shows a talent for crafting pop that ventures out of his country roots. On a non-group composition, the Flower/Sanderfur "I Can't Stop This Feeling," they sound like they've cloned Ambrosia's "Biggest Part of Me," or at least its aura -- and that song was released at this same moment in time. On other titles they've retained (or lifted) the vibe of Firefall and the Eagles to good effect. While the slickness might turn off purists who believe Pure Prairie League was the second coming of the Flying Burrito Brothers, it would be a mistake to generalize and write this important outing off. Firin' Up is a country-pop album that was truly Gill's breakthrough, and outside of its historical importance is highly entertaining. "Janny Lou" is sweet and David Sanborn's brilliant sax work enhances Gill's tender love song, just as it was the frosting on the cake for "Let Me Love You Tonight." "I'm Almost Ready" embraces the Eagles, like their "Already Gone" meeting "Heartache Tonight." Outside of a 1995 hit with Amy Grant, Gill's major mainstream success and crossover appeal is found on this album. Just listen to "Give It Up" to see how he, and Pure Prairie League, could have climbed to even greater heights had they stayed on this pop/country path. There's not a bad track on Firin' Up, an album that's a fine example of adult contemporary, rock, and country formats all merging in the 1980s. More of a classic than it's been given credit for.

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