Highway: 30 Years of America

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America may be best-known for "A Horse With No Name" but they had a number of hits right into 1982. These weren't just Top 100 hits, but songs that remained staples of soft rock and oldies stations for years: "I Need You," "Ventura Highway," "Tin Man," "Lonely People," "Sister Golden Hair," and "You Can Do Magic," all well-crafted, melodic, memorable gems. Rhino's three-disc box set Highway: 30 Years of America proves that much, but if that's all that it did, it wouldn't be recommended over a hits collection. To some, a single-disc collection still may be preferable (although no single-disc set has all the hits), yet this is an ideal box. Highway contains all the charting singles, selected album tracks, alternate mixes, single edits, and demos, but the key to its success is that it plays as smoothly as a well-sequenced studio album. The compilers did a terrific job, selecting nearly every noteworthy track from America's albums, so there is no discernable drop-off in quality until the very end of the collection when the demos and latter-day recordings are hauled out. This box reveals a band that may have been indebted to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and the Beatles, but still wound up developing their own voice, rising to the forefront of soft rock. As Highway moves from one well-constructed, charming cut to another, it's hard not to admire America's skill at crafting appealing pop tunes that were folky, but not folk-rock, soft but not shapeless, melodic and memorable. Make no mistake -- America is decidedly uncool, yet anyone with a fondness for easy, melodic soft rock will certainly find much to treasure on this superb set.

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