Lexington Herald-Leader, Sunday, December 16, 1984

Five Solo Albums Keep Los Angeles Folk-Rock Sound Alive

By John Rockwell New York Times News Service

NEW YORK - If any city and any sound dominated rock music during the 1970s, it was Los Angeles-style folk-rock.

Bands like the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, and solo artists like Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt shaped a style based firmly on folk music - country, '60s folk, even soul - but unified as a genre of its own by its shared concerns, musical signatures and social linkages.

Los Angeles rock of this sort is almost a nostalgia item today. The '70s groups have been supplanted by punk and pop-rock bands, and some of the L.A. folk-rockers, like Ronstadt, have broadened their ranges to the point of abandoning their own images.

Five recent solo albums by veterans of the '70s Los Angeles rock scene suggest sometimes fruitful new avenues even as they reaffirm the genre's values.

There are three albums by former Eagles.

Don Henley's new album, Building the Perfect Beast (Geffen), is the closest in sound to an Eagles record and may appeal to fans of that band.

Henley has a distinctive, Texas-twanging baritone. Despite some slick- sounding synthesizer overlays, the basic idiom recalls the Eagles, and there are some nice cameo vocals by the likes of Belinda Carlisle and Patti Smyth.

The songs, most of them co-written with Danny Kortchmar, mine many of the same themes of romantic regret and desire that we used to find on Eagles albums. The trouble is that comfortable familiarity can quickly lapse into overfamiliarity: One reason the Los Angeles rock sound of the '70s didn't survive into the '80s was that people simply got tired of it. Henley hasn't found a way out of that dilemma.

Far more effective - indeed, the most pleasing album among these five - is The Allnighter, the second solo album by former Eagle Glenn Frey (MCA).

Frey has produced an elegant, refined soul-flavored album that is romantically sexy and is a sophisticated extension of the familiar Los Angeles rock style. The songs are co-written with Jack Tempchin, a Los Angeles singer and songwriter who has never achieved any great renown. But the success of this album belongs to Frey, for the quality of the songs, the subtle skill of their singing and the sumptuousness of the arrangements.

The third solo Eagle, Timothy B. Schmit, was a late addition to the band, having played bass, sung and written songs before that for Poco. The trouble with his Playin' It Cool (Asylum) is that he seems to be trying too hard to escape the sense of folk-rock sameness that weighs down Henley.

The album features a potpourri of songwriters and styles. Many of the cuts work well on their own, but the album as a whole fails to cohere.

J.D. Souther, who crops up as a songwriter for Schmit and as a background vocalist for Schmit and Henley, has long occupied a niche just below the top level of stardom in the Los Angeles rock scene.

He is a well-respected songwriter and a sensitive and direct, if vocally limited, singer. But his solo albums have never quite caught on commercially.

Souther's latest, Home by Dawn (Warner Bros.), finds this archetypically lovelorn balladeer in characteristic form. He, too, tries to stretch his range, but his forte, and this album's strength, is sad, slow songs. His lack of dominant commercial success helps to preserve his sense of freshness.

Finally, we have the latest solo album by Lindsey Buckingham, Go Insane (Elektra). Buckingham, the loner wild man of Fleetwood Mac, first emerged as a part of a duo with Stevie Nicks. The two joined Fleetwood Mac, a former British blues-rock band, and transformed it into the epitome of the Southern California sound, bringing the group overwhelming popular success in the '70s.

Buckingham provided most of the band's buoyant pop-rock spirit. But he also undercut the group's latent frothiness with fascinating, disturbing, off- balance twists.

Buckingham's determination to pursue his own, idiosyncratic directions and to work by himself in his home studio contributed mightily to the recent quiescence of Fleetwood Mac.

Go Insane prolongs the image of the mad outsider, in its title, its crazed-looking jacket photos and its songs. This is, in many respects, a profoundly eccentric record, full of deliberately odd lyrics, abrupt song structures and bizarre instrumentation.

The album has undeniable charm, too, and it reminds us that beneath the fun-fun-fun surface and the stately folk-rock torch songs that defined Los Angeles rock of the '60s and '70s, there has always been a defiantly oddball current.

Thanks to Les for posting this to The Ledge.