Imagine if you will the following scenario:
You're a music fan of the usual critically acclaimed yet commercially undervalued 60s west coast stuff (The Byrds circa Notorious Byrd Brothers, post Pet Sounds Beach Boys, Forever Changes, Gene Clark, Head-era Monkees etc), you've discovered a few gems of your own that seem to have slipped under the radar altogether (Moby Grape? Clear Light? The United States Of America? The Dillards?), and you've got a taste for that sort of sound. Just The Right Sound, in fact.
Now, further imagine you know The Association only fleetingly, being perhaps too young, or the wrong side of the Atlantic to appreciate their success in their heyday. As far as you're concerned, they're another sub Beach Boys pop group who had a couple of chirpy pop hits and still trawl the oldies circuit with scant original members. LIke Gary Puckett, or the 1910 Fruitgum Co. That sort of thing.
Is this you? If it is, the scenario should be continued as follows:
On the recommendation of someone in a record store, or a friend, (or an online review- hello!) you pick up this album out of curiosity; it's cheap, you get it on vinyl for a quid, you get it from iTunes. Whatever.
You slip it on expecting a few chirpy tunes in close harmony. And you hear a banjo and acoustic guitar, as warm and as close as a Burritos tune, but with polished harmonies that only seven voices can create. The opening track Look At Me, Look At You may be a Vietnam lament, but it's beautiful, powerful, surges in all the right places, stays quiet in others. Terry Kirkman's lead vocal is utterly sublime and heartbreaking. You wonder if you've got the wrong CD? This is GOOD.
It continues in this vein- despite the seven man configuration (all of whom get at least one song and one lead vocal each), there's plenty of unity under John Boylan's production. The sound at its best is somewhere between Untitled-era Byrds or The Dillards, but with more pop nous - Jim Yester's heartbreaking What Were The Words is beyond compare, while drummer/guitarist Ted Bluechel offers up The Nest, equally haunting and accesible at the same time. By the end of side one (or Are You Ready?), you realise this is not what you thought it would be.
The album loses steam at various points - Larry Ramos's Are You Ready is Davy Jones-lite rock, I Am Up for Europe is a tad too inconsequential, and Russ Giguere's vegetarian anthem Brocolli slides by on charm alone without too much substance (the opposite of brocolli itself, you could say). But considering the high quality and rather serious nature of the album, they serve as light relief in stark contrast to beautiful close harmony things like Under Branches or the epic Boy On The Mountain.
I'm listening to this album as I type, and I am just aghast that this isn't as popular as it should be, even among fans of obscure Americana. A rough comparison would be something like Sunflower or Carl & The Passions - So Tough by The Beach Boys; the commercial high point may have been long gone, but the music is unalterably superb.
Buy, and you shall not regret.