Pickin' Up the Pieces/Poco

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Of all the pioneering country-rock bands of the late '60s, Poco may well have been the one that got the hybrid the most right, at least initially. The group's high-energy, joyous, and infectious songs had none of the artfulness of the Byrds' attempt at fusing rock and country, and none of the cache of hipness that weighed down both the Eagles and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Poco just played and had fun in an unassuming way, at least at the outset, because latter-era Poco is every bit as laden with California cool as the above named bands. This release from England's Beat Goes On Records combines Poco's first two albums in a two-disc set, and it is an inspired (and obvious) pairing, catching the band at its freshest peak in the studio. Released in 1969, Pickin' Up the Pieces features Richie Furay's title track, a song that seems to be a comment on the breakup of Furay's previous band, Buffalo Springfield (or at least the demise of some kind of relationship), and it revels in the fresh new joy and freedom that comes with "picking up the pieces" and starting over. Another striking cut from the first album is pedal steel player Rusty Young's propulsive instrumental "Grand Junction," which grew to be a centerpiece of the group's live show. Poco, released in 1970, continues the joy with Furay's most Springfield-like Poco song, "Hurry Up," and an impossibly infectious song from Jim Messina, "You Better Think Twice." Deliverin', a concert album released in 1971, continued the bouncy, bubbling Poco sound, but the wheels started to change soon after, as Messina left the group and was replaced by Paul Cotton. Poco continued making fine albums, but the joyous energy of these first three albums dissipated somewhat and the band drifted toward the Eagles' model, which was less unique and innovative, but sold a whole lot better.

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