McGuffey Lane

McGuffey Lane/Aqua Dream

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McGuffey Lane's four albums for Atco remained out of print and unavailable on CD until Collectors Choice Music released a pair of two-fers in 2006. The first of these, McGuffey Lane/Aqua Dream, combines their first two albums, both released in 1980. Their eponymous debut is a strong, lean country-rock album in the tradition of Pure Prairie League -- heavy on harmonies and melodies, but built upon a country core. Unlike albums by America or the Eagles -- or even records that the group would record later -- McGuffey Lane's debut doesn't make many pop concessions; the sound isn't overly slick, there aren't many keyboards outside of a piano, there are times that the group can lay back and jam, but the focus always remains on the band's crisp, clean sound and sturdy songs. At the time, the band was too country for rock and not pop enough for country -- they came around maybe five years too late to truly be part of the wave of '70s country-rock, although they fit right in sonically -- but the high quality of those songs, delivered straightforwardly and with heart by this likeable group, are the reason why McGuffey Lane has aged well and remains a thoroughly entertaining listen. In contrast, Aqua Dream sounds more of its time: the production has been pumped up with more electric guitars and keyboards, bringing McGuffey Lane's sound up to the standards of both album-oriented rock and urban cowboy-worshipping country radio. It's a sound that unmistakably evokes 1980, but it's one that still is hard to peg as either strictly country or rock, so it's little surprise that it didn't find a home in either format upon its release. The album begins firmly within the rock camp with the punchy guitars of "A New Beginning" and "It Comes from the Heart," but soon it veers toward smoother territory that would have would have fit alongside hits by Johnny Lee on country radio. Aqua Dream continues to hop-scotch all over the place -- there's the skipping down-home stomp "Don't You Think About Me (When I'm Gone)" followed by the laid-back soft rock of "Start It All Over," both equally strong on their own merits -- that proves that McGuffey Lane is diverse, almost effortlessly so, but that diversity doesn't necessarily make them easier to market. It does, however, hold up pretty well over the years: the album doesn't necessarily gel, but as a collection of individual tracks Aqua Dream is strong, and it complements McGuffey Lane well, making this a two-fer of overlooked '70s country-rock that's worthwhile for serious fans of the genre.

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