The Fogelberg Files: Captured Angel

In September 1975, when Dan Fogelberg’s third album, Captured Angel, was released, I was 10 years old and, for all intents and purposes, a stranger in the foreign land known as the Philadelphia suburbs, where my family landed after a half decade abroad. I liked music, but it wasn’t an all-consuming force – just as with sports, movies and TV, I had a lot to learn.

Fast forward more years than I care to count, with much of them laser-focused on rock, pop, country, folk and R&B/soul – but nary a second spent on this album, which I played for the first time in early March. I expected to write about it that same week for this, my occasional series on Fogelberg’s discography, but soon found myself distracted by another album, another artist.  As happens. The same pattern repeated itself in the weeks that followed – it became part of my workday soundtrack, but by the time the weekend came, I found myself compelled to spotlight something else, usually something new.

That says something in and of itself, I guess.

Much like Home Free and Souvenirs, the CSN influence on Captured Angel is immense, with harmonies soaking the choruses and even some verses. “Comes and Goes,” for instance, would’ve been at home on any of the Crosby-Nash albums of the early ‘70s, just as the title track sounds like a song the S of the bunch, Stephen Stills, might have brought to the studio. An overt Eagles echo is sometimes heard, too, with a polished country-rock lilt periodically permeating the proceedings. Neither is necessarily a bad thing and, in fact, the album makes for pleasant background music. “From a distance,” as singer-songwriter Julie Gold wrote in a different context, “there is harmony and it echoes through the land.”

Fogelberg’s 1972 debut, Home Free, was helmed by Norbert Putnam and, though lyrically slight, showed much promise. Souvenirs, released in 1974, was produced by Joe Walsh and found Fogelberg upping his lyrical game while expanding his sonic palette. Captured Angel – his first self-produced effort – finds him treading water, however, with his lyrics stilted and the songs often smothered by the production. As I hinted at above, harmonies – and double-tracked lead vocals, for that matter – are here, there and everywhere; it’s akin to multiple exclamation points ending every sentence!!!!!! Really, folks, the period can and should carry that weight in all but the rarest of instances.

The album opens with “Aspen/These Days.” The first half is an instrumental ode to his new Colorado home and wouldn’t have been out of place on the Love Story soundtrack. “These Days,” on the other hand, is an affecting tune, with acoustic and electric guitars building to crescendo after crescendo. While he strives for the profound with his lyrics, however, he misses the mark: “We used to live like there was no tomorrow/Tasting our trials a day at a time/Crying for justice and laughing at sorrow/Such innocent crimes/All we ever wanted to be was free…” 

As a whole, the album – which features his artwork on the cover – seems centered around a failed relationship, or a series of same, but he seems to have taken away the wrong lessons from it. In “Next Time,” for instance, he vows that “Well next time I ain’t gonna fall on my knees/And come out of love empty-handed/But next time I’ll be even harder to please/Oh when will the next time be….” (Guaranteed, the only thing being “harder to please” will get you is more time alone.)

That said, grace is found within the grooves of the set’s penultimate song, “Crow.” It’s somewhat similar in construction to “As the Raven Flies” (from Souvenirs) in that it builds, bit by bit, from a gentle tributary into a raging torrent, and lyrically it’s the one song where everything falls into place. And, as with “As the Raven Flies,” it conjures Crosby and Nash backed by the Mighty Jitters – even though he plays all the instruments save for fiddle, which is handled by David Lindley.

In terms of sales, the album was initially a disappointment, peaking at No. 23 on the charts, but it eventually went gold (half a million in sales) and has since gone platinum. 

The critical reception was mixed at the time, as this SuperSeventies page demonstrates: Rolling Stone’s Stephen Holden singled out the writing as a weak spot: “While Fogelberg’s singing, playing and producing convey real emotional fervor, his writing doesn’t.” Billboard called it “gentle.” And Robert Christgau, the dean of rock critics, damned it with a D+. (Meanwhile, if newspapers.com is any indication, the review roundups that typically appeared in Sunday newspapers ignored it.)

My take is what I said up top: It makes for pleasant background music. The only time I found myself distracted from my work when playing the album was on “Crow.” Take from that what you will.

The track list:

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