‘Hideaway’, which was originally released in 1976, is the sixth studio album by ‘America’, the band that had specialised in folk rock and Americana. Their early classic albums such as their self-titled debut and follow-ups ‘Homecoming‘ and ‘Holiday‘, captured the sound and the mood of the early 1970s with breezy, acoustic songs and pleasing harmonies. This one was recorded in Colorado, and the Caribou Ranch is depicted on the wintry cover art.
It’s immediately clear from the opening of ‘Hideaway’ that the band is attempting something different. Under the assured oversight of former-Beatles producer George Martin, they opt to demonstrate their musical versatility with this album. The opening track, ‘Lovely Night’, has something of a reggae twist mixed with a flavour of solo John Lennon, which immediately signals a change in direction. The electric guitar in ‘Amber Cascades’ shows the influence of Martin and also feels like something new. The third song, ‘Don’t Let it Get You Down’ is the rockiest that the band had been up to that point, and they are really pushing the vocals to give them more welly. Although a foot-tapper, heard in isolation, it would be hard to pin it on ‘America’ if you only knew their earlier work.
The short and sweet ‘Can’t You See’ (the first on the album to be written by Dan Peek) is closer to familiar territory, especially when Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell join in with backing vocals, and a touch of harmonica gives it a distinctly American sound, though it is not an especially distinctive or original song.
The longest piece on the album, Beckley’s ‘Watership Down’, is also one of the most creative and slickly-produced, with long instrumental passages augmented by backing vocals. It’s during the choruses that it really burst into life, and with piano accompaniment, this feel-good song is well-orchestrated, bringing in strings towards the climax.
There are sections of the album that don’t sit comfortably together. For example, a doo-wop device bookends ‘She’s Beside You’, which transitions into the instrumental ‘Hideaway Part I’, which sounds a bit like the dramatic opening titles music for a popular daytime show. They are followed by the rockier ‘She’s a Liar’ at the start of Side B, which leads you in with resonant electric guitar and later delves into a blast of saxophone. The juxtaposition between the sounds across neighbouring songs is a little alienating, especially on the first listen. In striving to demonstrate artistic range, the album is at times in danger of feeling unconnected or even incoherent. The trumpet on ‘Letter’ suggests that perhaps targeting an overall more fully-orchestrated sound might have served them better than such a smorgasbord of approaches. It’s other major weakness is that, although offering a decent and enjoyable collection of songs, there are few contenders that could be considered among the band’s all-time best songs.
Having said that, the second side round out strongly. Dan Peek, who has a good album with four strong songs, provides ‘Jet Boy Blue’ which returns to a rockier edge with strong harmonies. The slow build on Beckley’s ‘Who Loves You’, with the return of piano accompaniment affording it a grander sound, also lifts the song into being something more special.
Although not their strongest album, ‘Hideaway’ has some gems. ‘Letter’ has so much going on, and some unusual instrumentation, making it an obvious contender. Although not to everybody’s taste, we enjoyed Gerry Beckley’s ‘Watership Down’ for its originality and instrumental passages. For a catchy song ideal for driving in the sunshine with the window down, you really can’t beat Dan Peek’s ‘Today’s the Day’, especially if you want a sing along. For a rockier classic in a rich and familiar ‘America’ vein, ‘Jet Boy Blue’ is the song to turn to. Their music will root nostalgia buffs firmly in the mid-70s, which is in itself a thing of beauty.
‘America’s ‘Hideaway’ is released on 180 g white vinyl and full-colour sleeve. It includes a square colour insert with photos of the band taken in Colorado during the making of the album, depicting some excellent knitwear and winter overcoats that are no doubt now lost to the ravages of time. Although ‘Hideaway’ isn’t an entirely successful quest to find a new sound, it is another demonstration of the abundance of musical talent within the band. Though they are at their best when they play to their strengths.
Track listing: Side A 1. Lovely Night 2. Amber Cascades 3. Don’t Let it Get You Down 4. Can’t You See 5. Watership Down 6. She’s Beside You 7. Hideaway Part I Side B 1. She’s a Liar 2. Letter 3. Today’s the Day 4. Jet Boy Blue 5. Who Loves You 6. Hideaway Part II Record label: Music on Vinyl Release date: June 24th 2022 Buy America ‘Hideaway’