Still surviving as the poor man's Crosby, Stills & Nash, the California soft-rock peddler America once again has returned to the heady days of Chardonnay and macrame, dragging with it a host of (seemingly) willing modern rock accomplices.
The band's new album is called Here & Now, although given its backward-looking aesthetic, There & Then might be more apropos. It was produced by Adam Schlesinger, of Fountains of Wayne, and former Smashing Pumpkins guitar slinger James Iha, and it features guest appearances by Ben Kweller; Jim James, of My Morning Jacket; and alt-country bad boy Ryan Adams.
Don't expect to hear any of the Jacket's spaced-out Southern rock or Mr. Adams' beer bottle blues, though. The songs and style of Here & Now are still firmly America.
Never terribly creative lyrically (although Horse With No Name does offer a warning against prolonged sun exposure), Here & Now errs on the side of trite, with good days and sunshine dreams appearing as a recurring motif. Chasing the Rainbow, the opening track, is the most optimistic love-gone-wrong song ever, and A Walk in the Woods, with its simplistic theme of following a given path just to see what there is to see, offers little stimulation.
To be fair, there are moments of depth: The dark diamond Golden shows a flair for the abstract, and the surprisingly rocky Ride On is very nearly propulsive. It should be noted, however, that those songs were written by Jim James and co-written by Mr. Schlesinger, respectively, and suffer under the America yoke.
In an ingenious bit of marketing, America's label has included something for the America fans of yore: a second disc featuring live performances of the band's heyday hits, including the aforementioned Horse and Sister Golden Hair. That's good, because those bad boys are almost impossible to find on classic rock radio.
It's a testament to the true power, or lack thereof, of Here & Now that even after repeated playing, there isn't a single track, a single lick or phrase that remains memorable. The aural equivalent of aerosol cheese, it's not so unpleasant as to be unpalatable, but you aren't going to get much out of it, either.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
America: Here & Now (Burgundy Records)
The Verdict: * out of *****
Click here to listen to a clip of America's Chasing the Rainbow.