Record #418: Firefall – Firefall (1976)

After years of smug punk-ethos and hipstery you-wouldn’t-have-heard-of-thems, I’m trying to be a better poptimist. Cynicism and taste policing stopped being fun a long time ago.

Part of that is embracing the mountains of soft rock filling discarded collections, thrift stores, and $1 bins.

But sometimes, I find records that don’t require me to lower my standards to enjoy them.

As long as I’ve been collecting, I’ve seen Firefall all over the place. So when I stumbled upon it this past weekend, I decided to take a chance on it.

And that gamble is paying off.

Despite the soft rock tag, Firefall has an impressive pedigree, formed by former members of country-rockers The Flying Burrito Brothers and psychedelic all-stars Spirit. The music here is far more middle-of-the-road than either project indulged in, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t substance in here.

With lush harmonies, sparkling acoustic guitars, moaning guitar solos, and a country tinge to their chart-ready rock and roll, Firefall aims for Eagles-style hits and ends up surpassing them. Opener “It Doesn’t Matter” (co-written by Stephen Stills) points a gun in Don Henley’s face and says, “Hand over ‘One of These Nights,’ and hold the disco.” Tracks like “Love Isn’t All” and “Dolphin’s Lullaby” do tender country/rock ballads better than anyone ever did, while “No Way Out” and “Do What You Want” drop some honky-tonk boogie.

The group’s mega-hit “You Are the Woman” is actually the lowest spot on the album. It’s pleasant, but not much else.  And when bookended by the subdued “Sad Ol’ Love Song” and the dark “Mexico,” it fails to stand up against the rest of the album.

The surprise on this album is just how jazzy it is. Which, given bassist Mark Andes’ involvement in Spirit might not actually be that surprising. Sax, flute, and brass find their way into the background of a number of these tracks—and not in a hamfisted way. There’s a tastefulness that gives some of the tracks a sort of  Return to Forever vibe.

In a fair world, this disc would be remembered for the piece of understated country rock/soft rock it was, instead of filling the bargain bins of every record store.

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