I spent some time in a particular record shop in L.A. as a twenty-something. In 1984, I kept examining a 2-disc live Jazz set called, 'TRAVELS' because something about the cover intrigued me. Finally, one day I broke down and purchased it even though I'd never heard of THE PAT METHENY GROUP. Every once in awhile you roll the dice and win big. Since then, Pat Metheny has enriched my life like no other musician!
It wasn't long before I discovered that some purely magical quality about his compositions (The tempo? No. The rhythms? Hmmm...) made them conducive to stress-free driving and seemingly transformed life seen through the windshield into some kind of imaginary movie. Oddly, everything one sees seems to be the ideal visual accompaniment to the music that is playing at all times. (I'll never forget listening to 'TRAVELS' through headphones while traveling by locomotive through the deep woods between Fort Bragg and Willits, California. It was a nearly mystical experience!)
After awhile I acquired other P.M.G. recordings like his elaborately textured, Brazilian-accented sets, 'THE FIRST CIRCLE', 'STILL LIFE (TALKING)', and 'LETTER FROM HOME' (my favorites) and found that I could put any one of them into my car player and let it repeat for - LITERALLY - a month or more without tiring of it.
Because Metheny's sound DID gain a deeper and richer resonance over the years and because I never owned 'AMERICAN GARAGE' on lp, I didn't realize that this disc was poorly mastered, as several other reviewers have pointed out. But it's true : the sound has a pronounced high-end jangling to it, and while it won't entirely infringe on your listening pleasure, it does leave something to be desired. (Like a little bass perhaps!)
The first two tracks, (CROSS THE) HEARTLAND and AIRSTREAM are great open road pieces, evoking images of corn and wheat fields seen flashing by at 65 miles an hour from the interstate, and the titles indicate that early on, Metheny realized that his music inherently expresses a sense of motion. THE SEARCH features some very delicate and pretty piano work from Metheny's longtime musical collaborator, Lyle Mays. The title track, AMERICAN GARAGE, shows the Group in a revved up mood and employing some distinct Gospel inflections. This is closer to Rock than Jazz. And although I do enjoy THE EPIC - aptly titled at 13 minutes - it tends to meander just a bit. The whole album times out at just under 36 minutes - about half of the musical content found on most of his later releases.
'AMERICAN GARAGE' would be worth having if just for that great album cover : The deep blue, cloud-kissed sky and soft Autumn light reflecting off of an Airstream dealership. (Are you old enough to remember those large silver bullets being pulled all across the heartland? And the yearning to travel the countryside that they instilled in the mind?) Even so, I would have to place 'AMERICAN GARAGE' into Metheny's Second Tier of music. In my subjective opinion, the "Metheny Must-Haves" are the aforementioned titles, plus 'SECRET STORY.' If you dig those, then you may want to explore this disc, also 'WE LIVE HERE' (his trademark guitar synthesizer finds a funky groove thang), '80/81' (for straightforward Jazz), and 'BEYOND THE MISSOURI SKY' with Charlie Haden (for those late night / early morning super mellow hours at home).
[*WARNING : Make sure you've already heard what you're buying if it is "Pat Metheny" without his "Group." I don't necessarily like every album he's produced, even with the "Group", but a few of his solo projects are nothing more than "experiments" in dissonance!]
Just as a dog has never really experienced a walk until it has ditched its leash, you, my friend, have never really experienced a "road trip" until you've traveled with the Pat Metheny Group. If Stephen T. McCarthy is driving, you can be sure that Pat is playing!