Lou Christie

Paint America Love

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Lou Christie's career as an AM-friendly pop singer with a truly striking falsetto wasn't quite what it had been by 1971, and on his album Paint America Love, Christie attempted to reinvent himself and his music, adding his family name Sacco to his stage name and writing the bulk of the material with his longtime collaborator Twyla Herbert. Paint America Love was an ambitious effort to create an intelligent and musically sophisticated portrait of life in the United States during a turbulent time, and while it was almost entirely ignored on its initial release, it's a minor masterpiece that marries Christie's vocals -- passionate but executed with consummate skill -- with grand-scale arrangements that suggest a fusion of Brian Wilson, Jack Nitzsche, and Dimitri Tiomkin. The music might sound absurdly grand in some contexts, but Christie's vocals are full-bodied enough to carry their weight without sounding as if he's straining himself, and while he's still capable of hitting the high notes, Christie employs his falsetto far more sparingly than he did on "Lightning Strikes" or "Two Faces Have I." Except for two songs from producer Tony Romeo, Christie and Herbert wrote all the songs on Paint America Love, and they deal with the political and social issues of the day with greater sophistication than one might expect, wrestling with the malaise of the end of the '60s while struggling to hold on to some optimism, and "Lighthouse" and the title song would probably have been celebrated as anthems if they'd come from an artist with more hipster credibility at the time. Christie also produced roughly half the album, and while he was clearly going for the aural equivalent of Cinerama, like 2001: A Space Odyssey this is a story that demands a big screen, and the album makes ideal use of its broad spaces. Paint America Love is a superb and affecting piece of studio-crafted pop, and evidence that Lou Christie had matured into a world-class writer and producer while no one was looking.

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