Whatever Mike does, he does well
C. Greene | 09/11/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I always try to state my personal biases up front in a review, and in this case I feel it's particularly important. This review isn't directed to those who already like country rock or country music, because I'm not qualified to speak on the subject, and you probably already know far better than I do what contributions Michael Nesmith has made in this field. This is rather directed at the Monkees fan who is looking to (belatedly) explore what came after the lads went their separate ways; more specifically to those who, like me, learned early on that when Mike Nesmith performs his own songs, those are ones that we can't ever seem to get out of our heads. (Let me face up to it; Mike could sell me the Brooklyn Bridge if he set his sales pitch to music and sang it.)
I can not by any stretch of the imagination call myself a fan of country music, as there is a limit to how much twang and misery I can take. Perhaps once a year, the right song in the right setting is enjoyable. Likewise, while I have periodically heard the slide guitar used to very nice effect, when combined with country music the sound conjures up for me an image of an old gas pump on a dusty road and fly buzzing outside a decaying screen door. However, my desperation for more Nesmith material drove me to sample his post-Monkees work with the First and Second National Band and beyond, and I have to confess that after about ten listenings, my resistance has eroded steadily and quickly.
The bottom line is this: if you like Michael's material on the Monkees' "Missing Links" albums and the post-"Birds, Bees" Monkees albums, you are already ten steps down this road - the songs on this CD are not that far off in musical style, and while more of them are of the somebody-done-somebody-wrong variety, I would recommend that you give this collection a try. This is a "best of" compilation, which I thought was a good way to be introduced to this material. The music is what I think of as an older variety of country - something softer and quieter in the background vs. the current concert-volume flashy stuff one sees advertised. I did cringe the first time I heard "Tumbling Tumbleweeds", "Born to Love You" and "Prairie Lullaby" (warning: "Lullaby" contains yodeling), but now I can smile at the first two and really enjoy the latter. For those of us who grew up hearing Linda Ronstadt's rendition of "Different Drum", I actually like Mike's better - it's downright refreshing and has a bite to it. There are also re-workings of songs like "Listen to the Band" and "Some of Shelly's Blues" which are more countrified, but I find that I like them better than the earlier ones because they seem to be loaded with personality.
Michael has a gift for infectious melodies, shrewd observation and eloquent, armor-piercing lyrics that is hard to beat no matter what type of music he puts his mind to. Based on this CD's contents, I definitely plan to delve further into some of the First- and Second National Band recordings that have been released on disc.
I would also recommend that you try "The Newer Stuff" (especially if his later Monkees material did not sit well with you), which is another good representation of the very different direction that he moved into in later years - a bit surprising at first, but definitely all Nesmith. And that's a good thing in my book.