Help the Poor

The Poor

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Help the Poor Review

by Bruce Eder

Listening to this 15-song CD may cause a reaction of delight and sadness -- delight in the music, intermixed with sadness that the Poor never were able to succeed, or even get widely heard, in their own time. They're one of those bands that are written about more than they were ever heard -- just a bit like Buffalo Springfield (but without anything like the latter group's one major flourish of chart action), which is fitting, as key members from the two bands, Richie Furay and Jim Messina of Buffalo Springfield and Randy Meisner of the Poor, ultimately comprised three-fifths of the original lineup of Poco. Help the Poor draws together the surviving sides by the Poor as well as the four songs left behind by another, earlier Randy Meisner outfit, the Soul Survivors, and a still earlier Meisner outfit, the Esquires -- in essence, it's a compendium of Randy Meisner's early work and is not only essential listening for fans of Poco but also should be appreciated by fans of the Eagles. The Poor turn out to be anything but that, at least musically, and show that Meisner, if not working at quite the level that Furay and Messina were operating on, brought a lot of worthwhile music and experience on top of potential to the table when Poco was being organized. Their sound is midway between the Byrds from Younger Than Yesterday thru Notorious Byrd Brothers, and the Monkees' Mike Nesmith-authored tracks, filled with melodic folk-rock style guitar possessed of a slightly shimmering, spacey aura, and beautiful hooks in most of their songs, with very accessible and satisfying vocals, lead and harmony. Occasionally they shoot for something different, such as a harder sound as on "Look at Me," with its forceful, upfront lead guitar and emphatic electric rhythm guitar, and shouts worthy of the early Beatles; or a folksier, country-rock number like "Love Is Real" (which sounds like a later Nesmith tune), or even the more overtly psychedelic pop "My Mind Goes High." Whatever direction each track took, it's all stuff that should have been heard more widely than it was. Their work had a potential commercial edge, "She's Got the Time (She's Got the Changes)" showing real garage punk attitude as well as a ton of virtuosity and style. The Soul Survivors tracks are, strangely enough, even more commercial in a somewhat more dated manner -- even those guys could and should have seen some national chart action. The Esquires sides, on the other hand, reveal them as more of a pure garage band, more sophisticated than many but not ready for more than regional activity. The annotation takes the form of a very entertaining essay by J. W. Stec, and the sound is excellent.

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