Well, well. In the dying embers of physical media there burns a distant light.
For music lovers that light would be a small boutique record label called 7a Records.
Recently I reviewed another 7a CD package, “Davy Jones – Live in Japan”, and couldn’t say enough positive things about it. Everything from the sound to the packaging and the overall presentation were superb.
Now 7a Records have outdone themselves again with their latest release the equally superb, and possibly better, “Cosmic Partners: The McCabe’s Tapes” CD by Michael Nesmith with Red Rhodes; a live set recorded in McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, CA in August of 1973.
Though Nesmith was at a crossroads in his career at the time and feeling somewhat lost, you would never know it by listening to this sparking live set of some of his best solo work.
You see, 7a Records has been issuing terrific CD and vinyl packages of music by members of ’60’s music phenomena The Monkees, and/or those associated with them, for the past few years and have cultivated a quite impressive collection of releases.
No one, and I mean no one, would have expected a small label could survive releasing obscure solo recordings by ex-Monkees let alone release them in such lovingly produced packages and with such superb sound.
But survive they have as at least someone must be buying their products and I’m here to tell you it’s so worth taking the time to track these releases down as each and every one of them has been a welcome surprise filled with great music that has been neglected through the mists of time.
Weirdly enough, the demise of physical media has probably helped this 7a produce these wonderful packages as I’m sure the big labels have no interest in this stuff and if they did certainly would not put the time and effort to make these releases look and sound as good as 7a does.
So what do we have with this new Michael Nesmith release? I’d say we have pure gold.
First off, let me state that I’ve been a fan of The Monkees since I was well practically a fetus. I grew up a tried and true pop music fan and The Monkees project certainly produced pure gold not only literally but aesthetically as well as their music is a treasure trove of pop classics.
Now I know Mike Nesmith has been fond of saying that his solo career is a different kettle of fish from his work with The Monkees but I have to disagree somewhat.
Anyone who is familiar with The Monkees music at all would be very familiar with the country music leanings of Nesmith’s songwriting as most everything he produced with the group was soaked in his love of country music.
In fact I, like many others I’m sure, was introduced to country music aesthetics through Nesmith’s Monkees music. Songs like “Papa Gene’s Blues”, “What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round” (written by Michael Martin Murphy and Boomer Castleman), “Listen to the Band” and “Good Clean Fun” really brought that genre of music to life for me and primed me for that style of music as I grew older.
Nesmith’s solo career right after the Monkees was highlighted by a string of terrific albums on the RCA Records label that took Nesmith’s country music leanings and built them into some of the best country/rock music of the decade rivaling, and truthfully bettering. that of the more widely heard works by groups like The Eagles and Poco.
Nesmith even had a Top forty hit with the song “Joanne”, a 1970 song that I played to death on 45 even at the tender age of five years old. There was a melancholy to Nesmtih’s voice in that song that really appealed to me even as a child – I loved and still love songs reeking with melancholy.
I didn’t end up buying Nesmith’s RCA albums until much later in life but when I did I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved the music and how much a lot of it seemed quite familiar to me as they seemed like logical extensions of Nesmith’s writing with The Monkeeas.
I have to say listening to this new “Cosmic Partners” may now be my go to disc when I want to delve into Nesmith’s early solo work.
For starters this may be one of the best sounding and most intimate live albums I’ve heard in ages. There’s a clarity and languidness to the music that is just entrancing.
In fact the first full song on the album “Tomorrow and Me” feels like an aural ride through the desert at night. It feels like the moon is highlighting the scenery in crystal clear shades of defused white light as you ride through the stillness and warmth of the lonely yet absorbing desert night.
A little dramatic perhaps but I tell you the steel guitar paying of Red Rhodes throughout this live set is mesmerizing. I have never honestly heard anyone else play the pedal steel guitar quite like Rhodes does or who draws me in as much as he does in this recording.
Kudos to Nesmith’s son Christian who co-produced and mastered this disc as it sounds even better to me than Nesmith’s original RCA recordings.
I must also say that Nesmith was at the height of his vocal delivery as he has never sounded so good as he does in this performance.
Of course Nesmith also has some terrific banter with the audience in this show and none more entertaining than “The Great Escape” track which comes across as a mini encapsulation of his whole Monkees experience and a nice precursor to his recent autobiography “Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff”.
Other highlights of the disc for me are Nesmtih’s superb renditions of “Joanne”, “Some of Shelley’s Blues”, “Grand Ennui”, “The Crippled Lion”, and one of my all-time favorite Nesmith songs “Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun to Care)”.
In fact hearing “Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun to Care)” come to life in this live set really highlights how far the song had come from the early demo of the tune which resides on “The Monkees” 2006 Deluxe box set.
This new live version is the definitive version of this song for me as Nesmith really breaths new life into this performance in a way that transforms the song into something really special.
Of course as with all 7a Records everything about this CD set shows the loving care that went into it’s production – the cover, the booklet and the packing are all as superb as the sound of the disc itself.
In fact this has to be my favorite sounding 7s recording as I’m amazed at how well this set was recorded. The fact that it’s from a soundboard recording and not remixed from a multi-track tape is quite something.
If you’re a Nesmith fan or even if your a Monkees fan and have never dipped your toes into Nesmith’s solo career this CD is the perfect place to start to explore
Nesmith at the height of his songwriting and performing career.
In fact this disc sounds so good that I’d say it’s the perfect distillation of Nesmtih’s early solo career and really highlights all the strengths of Nesmith as a songwriter and performer.
As usual take a peek above at some photos of this new 7a Records collection. My copy was purchased directly from Nesmith’s Website (www.videoranch.com) and is personally signed to me which is a lovely bonus. (Note: the black and white sticker pictured above was an exclusive of his Website as well).
If you are in need of discovering some woefully overlooked timeless music from the 1970’s than look no further than “Cosmic Partners”, it’s truly worth your time to track down and enjoy.
See you next time!