CD Review of Happy Hour by Gerry Beckley
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America, Crosby Stills and Nash, Poco
Human Nature
Gerry Beckley: Happy Hour

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

iven his three previous solo albums and one outside collaboration, one might ask – and reasonably, as well – why Gerry Beckley sees the need to do an album on his own and away from the fold. After all, as one of only two predominant voices in America, and with equal opportunity to contribute material as desired, he would seem to have all the outlet needed in order to satisfy his creative whims. And with his day job keeping him busy pretty much year round – the band is ceaselessly touring – it’s not like there’s a need to fill a lot of down time.

Of course, Beckley wouldn’t be the first member of a seemingly seamless duo to tend to his own devices. Simon & Garfunkel showed the need to give each other space, and even the tireless Hall & Oates have ventured beyond their well-heeled parameters with individual efforts. But Beckley’s solo fare doesn’t necessarily hint at any desire to bend his boundaries – far from it, in fact. In listening to this – a solo "best of" with occasional unreleased offerings and a trio of live tracks to encourage the completist – even diehard fans might be prone to wonder what wouldn’t have otherwise fit fine on an America album.

Whatever Beckley’s motives, he’ll get no complaints here. These 18 tracks – sampled equally from the earlier efforts on his own, Van Go Gan, Go Man Go, and Horizontal Fall, as well as a one-album trio project with Chicago’s Robert Lamm and the late Carl Wilson – hold to the same soft rock template on which he and partner Dewey Bunnell fashioned their signature sound, all winsome vocals and easy, engaging melodies, fleshed out by supple arrangements that help ensure that harmonious bond. The unreleased "Smile" – the one and same standard penned by Charlie Chaplin – affirms the fact that mellow, starry-eyed ballads never go out of style. And while there may not be an entry as instantly engaging as, say, "Ventura Highway" or "Sister Golden Hair" among this lot, the three live tracks – "Submarine Ladies," "Til the Sun Comes Up Again" and "Monster" – show that cushy sentiments and Day-Glo designs can create an emphatic impression when showcased in concert. Likewise, a trio of tunes previewed off an upcoming album – "So Long Marni," "Hang Your Head High" and "Vagabond" – indicate Beckley’s not about to abandon his patented approach any time soon.

Nor should he, because only a cynic would decry the beauty and caress he conveys here. After all, any notion that America’s music was too softcore to carry any current relevance was quickly dashed when a slew of today’s pop pundits enthusiastically offered their services to record the band’s last album, Here & Now. Sadly, that album failed to bring the band any semblance of its earlier success, and given pop’s cynical stance of late, Happy Hour may not fare much better. However, if justice was served the way the optimists among us would hope it would be, this disc would soar straight to the top of the charts and linger there for a while.

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