As the early 1970s edged into the mid-1970s, the subdivision of America’s sonic landscape picked up speed. Perhaps no better evidence of it can be found than in the burgeoning numbers of singer-songwriters geared toward the college-and-older crowd. Theirs weren’t teen laments and/or rants; instead, they sang about love won and lost, plus life’s other hardships, with subjects ripped not from the headlines but their hearts. Much of the credit (or blame) can be directed to the success of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s eponymous 1969 album and releases from Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Cat Stevens and James Taylor.
In late 1972, Dan Fogelberg released his debut, Home Free. It sold poorly out of the gate for a variety of reasons, including a lack of promotion from his label, Columbia, but between then and the release of his sophomore set, Souvenirs, in October 1974, a lot had changed. For starters, there had been something of a groundswell of support for Home Free; a two-page piece in the Denver Post spurred sales in Colorado, for instance, and he’d found a receptive home in – of all places – Jackson, Miss., due to a local FM station. The same was true in other places across the U.S.; he may not have been a household name, but he was winning over listeners. As importantly: He formed his own record label, Full Moon Records, and inked a distribution deal with Epic.
He’d gained two years more experience, as well. Home Free was musically strong despite (or perhaps because of) the overt CSN influence, but marred by Fogelberg’s frequently subpar lyrics. On Souvenirs, he continues with the same harmony-laden style as before, but ups his lyrical game. Produced by Joe Walsh, it features top-notch studio personnel. In addition to Walsh, it includes the N from CSN, Graham Nash, who provides backing vocals on two tracks; drummer extraordinaire Russ Kunkel; bassist Bryan Garofalo, who – among other credits – was once in a band with Kunkel; and Manassas refugees Paul Harris (piano), Joe Lala (percussion), Kenny Passarelli (bass) and Al Perkins (pedal steel) – Passarelli, of course, was also the bassist in Barnstorm, while the other three backed the band in the studio. The Eagles’ Don Henley also plays drums and sings harmony on one song and, alongside bandmate Glenn Frey, provides backing vocals on another track.
“Part of the Plan” opens the album to nice effect, with its mid-tempo gait complementing well-written lyrics: “I have these moments all steady and strong/I’m feeling so holy and humble/The next thing I know I’m all worried and weak/And I feel myself starting to crumble/The meanings get lost and the teachings get tossed/And you don’t know what you’re going to do next…”
The dose of homesickness that is “Illinois” continues with the same pleasant vibe – and, at least to my ears, echoes Stephen Stills’ similarly themed “Colorado.” Musically speaking, “Changing Horses,” “Better Change” and the title track continue in the same vein, but at a slower pace, with well-written lyrics complementing a soft-rock sound. These are songs for a Sunday morning or weeknight before bed that are sure not to disturb the neighbors; some may call the lyrics pretentious, and at times they are – but within the construct of the songs, they work. “Here is a poem that my lady sent down/Some morning while I was away/Wrote on the back of a leaf that she found/Somewhere around Monterey…”
“As the Raven Flies” conjures not CSN, but Crosby & Nash backed by the Mighty Jitters. It’s a stunner that, similar to Home Free’s “The River,” seems at odds with the other songs on the album. It’s my favorite of the 11 tracks.
“Morning Sky” is another delight. Sporting a distinct country feel, it foreshadows his classic (if oft-overlooked) High Country Snows LP while laying down a story of a relationship doomed by his restlessness. “(Someone’s Been) Telling You Stories,” which follows, sounds like an outtake from Stephen Stills’ double-LP Manassas set, but with lyrics far more defensive than anything Stills ever penned. (Fogelberg lays out several scenarios of infidelity before claiming they never happened.) Coupled together, they paint a portrait of a young man unsure of himself.
The set ends with “There’s a Place in the World for a Gambler,” which conjures both CSN and the Eagles. It’s meant, I think, to be a grand statement to end the album. Musically, it builds bit by bit, expanding the soundscape into something far larger than the lyrics achieve: “There’s a light in the depths of your darkness/There’s a calm at the eye of every storm/There’s a light in the depths of your darkness/let it shine…oh, let it shine.” Lyrical shortcomings aside, however, it’s still a damn good song.
All in all, Souvenirs is a step up from Home Free. In retrospect, it’s easy to see why Fogelberg gained traction with this set, which reached No. 17 on the charts, despite the sonic landscape being littered with so many other singer-songwriters and “soft rock” practitioners. It’s a solid outing with a handful of stellar moments. My suggestion: Some Sunday morning, give it a whirl.
The track list:
Past, present & future entries in the series…