Graded on a Curve:
Poco,
Pickin’ Up the Pieces

Remembering Rusty Young, Poco co-founder, with a look back via our archives from just last month.Ed.

Can I be honest? I chose to review Poco’s 1969 debut Pickin’ Up the Pieces based solely on its cover. Sure it’s an excellent LP and pioneering work of country rock, but it’s the cover that truly matters to me because there’s a great story behind it. So here goes.

Seems bassist Randy Meisner–who would shortly thereafter become a founding member of the Eagles–quit the band in a royal snit after Richie Furay and Jim Messina (both formerly of Buffalo Springfield) excluded him from participating in the album’s final mix. This left Poco in a rather awkward position when it came to the painting of the band’s members meant to grace the album cover. Poco might have done any number of things to remedy this situation, the most obvious and simple one being to scrap the cover and come up with a new one. Instead they opted to air brush poor Randy from the cover Josef Stalin style–and replace him with a dog.

I’ve done a bit of research on said pooch, and he’s rather a mystery. I’ve had no luck contacting him through my many musician and record company connections, and I could find no evidence that he was paid for his role as stand-in. Nor was I able to determine if he actually played on the album. I hear no barking, which isn’t to say they buried him way back in the vocal mix. He may also have played bass. Should you happen to run into him tell him to give me a ring. I’d love to know how he’s doing.

Pickin’ Up the Pieces is often placed alongside The Byrds 1968 LP Sweetheart of the Rodeo as a seminal work of what would soon become known as country rock, but there are critical differences between the two. Sweetheart of the Rodeo included only two Byrds’ originals; Pickin’ Up the Pieces is composed solely of Poco originals. The Byrds sought inspiration from the past, paying homage to their country forebears, and it lends their music an old-timely hillbilly sound. Poco, on the other hand, were looking forward to a future that would include such studio slicks as the Eagles and Pure Prairie League.

Another key distinction between the two bands can only be called soul. Gram Parsons oozed the stuff, and it characterizes Sweetheart of the Rodeo every bit as much as The Byrd’s choice of traditional songs. Pickin’ Up the Pieces is a lot of things–nearly all of them good–but it’s light of weight and short on deep feeling.

Yet another difference in the two lies in purity of sound. The Byrds’ kept things redneck bar simple, the Poco of Pickin’ Up the Pieces less so. The musicians are top notch, the lush vocal harmonies give Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young a run for their money, and you get the typical array of traditional country instruments (pedal steel guitar, banjo, and dobro). But you also get horns (on “Nobody’s Fool and “Tomorrow”), strings (on the latter cut) and female backing vocalists on “Oh Yeah.” You’ll find no such fancy frills on Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

Such caveats and dog aside, Pickin’ Up the Pieces offers up an excellent array of songs. Pickers and grinners include the sunny title track, the gimcrack instrumental “Grand Junction,” and a pair of who-cares-if-you-split numbers in “Consequently So Long” and“Just If It Happens, Yes Indeed,”

The LP also comes with a pair of slow and mournful tunes. “Tomorrow” may fall short of The Byrds lovely beyond words “Hickory Wind” in the high and lonesome department but it’s a winner nonetheless, while “First Love” is a real tearjerker thanks in large part to Furay’s vocals. Pickin’ Up the Pieces also includes the electric numbers “Calico Lady” and the fuzz-guitar powered rocker “Short-Changed.”

In the end it doesn’t much matter whether Pickin’ Up the Pieces is less pure an example of what Gram Parsons’ dubbed Cosmic American Music than Sweetheart of the Rodeo. An LP should be judged on its merits, and Pickin’ Up the Pieces is a solid collection of well-constructed, perfectly executed country rockers. As I’m sure the dog on the cover would tell you if only he’d get in touch and agree to an interview.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text