BGO's 2014 two-fer pairs Herb Pedersen's two mid-'70s albums: 1976's Southwest and its 1977 sequel, Sandman. Pedersen is primarily known as a bluegrass musician who played guitar and banjo with a variety of artists, relishing a role as a sideman, but for a brief moment in the mid-'70s, he pursued a career where he was the frontman. Like many other members of the California country and folk scenes, by the time 1976 rolled around Pedersen had succumbed to the peaceful, easy breezes blowing out of LA, something that his 1976 debut Southwest thoroughly reflects. Produced by Mike Post, the composer best known for his award-winning television themes, perhaps it's not a surprise that there's more than a bit of studio polish on this collection, a feeling accentuated by the sterling set of supporting musicians: David Lindley, Larry Carlton, Jim Gordon, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris all make appearances. By and large, Pedersen avoids the bluegrass -- toward the end of the record, he covers Bill Monroe's "Can't You Hear Me Callin'," the lone moment that feels like a string-band throwback -- and specializes in a mellow, sun-kissed country-rock on Southwest. At times, there's either a hint of twang or high lonesome strumming in the arrangements -- and early on, the progressive cover of the Beatles' "Paperback Writer" and "Rock & Roll Cajun" are deceptively fuzz-toned -- but the defining characteristic of this record is its supple softness, best showcased in the sparkling "The Hey Boys," the lushly orchestrated "Harvest Home," and "Jesus Once Again," the latter a propulsive piece of soft-rock pop that should've been a hit. Pedersen and Post double-down on this slickness on Sandman, delivered just a year after Southwest. Pedersen records the Carter Family's "Fair and Tender Ladies," but its delicate harmonies are the outlier on an album that's thoroughly LA. A better indication of its sensibility is the closing cover of Ralph Stanley's "If I Lose," a far tighter rendition than the one the Band cut a few years earlier, a version highlighted by stacked harmonies and a great bit of slide guitar from Lowell George that brings it close to Little Feat territory. Despite this and the hiccupping bass and clavinets of "Tennessee Sal," Sandman is rarely funky: it basks in the warmth of its own gloss. Hints of country-rock are still here -- that's at Pedersen's foundation -- but Post's production turns the pleasing originals into something as easy to digest as Firefall. In retrospect, it's easy to see why Pedersen ran from this slickness -- he retreated to bluegrass not long afterward -- and even if it's not a pure reflection of his strengths or sensibilities, Sandman remains a nice bit of '70s SoCal soft rock.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine