Pacific Steel Co.

Pacific Steel Co.

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Pedal steel guitar was riding high in the late '70s, stepping forward with a determination to make those big shot lead guitarists run for cover. And indeed, pedal steel certainly has this capability, although for one reason or another it has remained largely confined to the country & western ghetto, despite the aforementioned burst of liberation in decades past. The concept of country & western all-star instrumental groups forming under some kind of bland, nondescript name was also a popular trend when this album was released, and continues to be, but the existence of a group named Pacific Steel Co. is an out-and-out lie, perhaps not unexpected sourcing from the label of Mike Nesmith, who made his name in show business as a member of a totally prefabricated group, the Monkees. Imagine the latter group as a combination of different groups, each under the leadership of one member, and you have the reality of this album and the Pacific Steel Co. concept. This album is really just a compilation of hot pedal-steel players, each leading a different group in which some of the rhythm section members overlap. While the photography on the back is subtly suggesting multiple pedal-steel lineups, the individual mug shots arranged so that the players are grimacing at each other, in reality there are no such combinations. The pedal-steel guys, all of whom are fantastic players, are each in charge of their own little combat group, with a general sense of malaise hanging over much of the material. Crafted to sound simultaneously funky, hard rocking, a bit country (but not old school), slick, and clever, the tracks collectively come across like attempts to serve gourmet food with complicated sauces on an airliner. Stomach aches will result, as will the craving to hear these brilliant musicians dig into some really good material rather than this type of stuff. Yet there are lots of good moments, and pedal-steel fans will be interested in hearing the recording simply to check out different tone settings and picking techniques. Several of the bands employ the typical Nashville lineup of an acoustic guitar and an electric guitar, giving the rhythmic feel a pleasant, downhome quality that can become the memory of a shattered peace when one of the guitar pickers decides to rock out a little too hard. The lineups in which these roles are filled by Al Casey and Billy Joe Walker particularly benefit, since these are fine pickers. Sneaky Pete brings in some of his usual accomplices, including bassist Skip Battin, and they play with spirit, despite the weak material. It is not really fair to single out Sneaky Pete or any of the other five pedal-steel players featured -- the homogenized nature of the material is a minor reason, but the main thing is that they are all equally superb at some or several aspects of their instruments. Actually getting them together for a real project would have had historic results, rather than just the creation of a pleasant album for steel-guitar fanatics only. Nesmith does manage to place one of his original tunes, "Rio," in the program.

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