After an eight year and eight album life with the RCA label, 1980 saw the unveiling of Firin' Up, Pure Prairie League's first album for Casablanca Records. On review here is a 2018 CD re-issue of this, from Floating World Records via their Retroworld reissue imprint.
With line-up changes that would have taxed Rock Family Trees author Pete Frame¸ by the time of this release the band line-up included none of the original members, but the record company had invested heavily in this album in an attempt to secure commercial success, i.e. vinyl sales.
Gary Mielke, who had provided synthesiser for both Gary Wright and Supertramp, David Sanborn, alto saxophonist, who had worked with the likes of David Bowie, James Taylor and Stevie Wonder, together with arranger David Campbell, (Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Carol King), were all drafted in to contribute to the record.
In this respect, they achieved a considerable measure of success in the US. The album reached number 37 in the Billboard Album charts, and there were two Top 40 singles hits. There had, however, been a deliberate shift away from the purer Country sound of earlier work to more of a 'pop' sound, although Adult-Oriented Country Rock would also be a fitting epithet. This, in retrospect, may be a little surprising, given the fact that Vince Gill, yes, the Country Music Hall Of Fame Inductee and winner of some 20-odd Grammy Awards, was by this time a leading member of the group, supplying lead guitar, lead vocals, fiddle and banjo here. Additionally, his song-writing talents are prominently featured; of the ten tracks on the album, he penned six.
Opening what was originally Side 1 on the LP, Gill's I'm Almost Ready is a powerful number, with rocking, riffing guitars, precise vocal harmonies and a fine lead-guitar break. Guitar virtuosity also features on Give It Up , before the mellow ballad Too Many Heartaches in Paradise showcases not only the quality of the arrangements but also some perfectly judged slide-guitar work from Jeff Wilson.
Two more Gill tracks follow, the first of which, She's All Mine, vocally has echoes of Gavin and Iain Sutherland, whilst You're My True Love, another ballad, gives ample opportunity to experience the quality and range of Gill's vocals over some lush string arrangements.
Let Me Love You Tonight, featuring Sanborn's sax, the track that made #10 in the singles chart together with I Can't Stop This Feelin' best exemplify the commercial aspect of the album, before the three final tracks, all Gill compositions, return to less mainstream fayre.
Lifetime of Nightime is another tasty rocker, with I'll Be Damned an out-an-out rollicking Country stomp before the album closes with Janny Lou, a waltz tempo ballad that again features excellent sax from Sanborn; a track that ends far too soon.
As an introduction to 'later' PPL this is a good primer; for aficionados of the group, it might be a timely release to replace the worn-out vinyl, either way, this is worth investigating; and full marks to enterprises such as Floating World Records for helping to keep (old) music alive.
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