The song "Keep on Tryin'" from Head Over Heels kicks off this two-fer of Poco albums (released in 1975 and 1976) and is a reasonable metaphor for the band's continued desire to break into the mainstream and enlarge what had been an appreciative but somewhat minor cult following. The quartet also relocated from the Epic label which had been home since their 1970 debut, to ABC (later MCA). With the business change came a burst of creativity, as the strong voices and songwriting skills of the Tim Schmit-Rusty Young-Paul Cotton creative nucleus dovetailed for a terrific set, shifting to a slightly more pop vein, while remaining firmly ensconced in the country, folk, and even bluegrass roots of their previous output. A cover of the rare Becker/Fagen composition "Dallas" (available only as a single before Steely Dan's full-length debut but not included on it) is an inspired choice. Paul Cotton blossomed as a songwriter with "Let Me Turn Back to You," a warm-up of sorts for "Heart of the Night," the track that three years later would ultimately provide the crossover hit they were searching for. The vocal harmonies are as good as anything the Eagles had going, and the strings which enhance "Down in the Quarter" find the foursome expanding their horizon with a fuller approach, as evidenced on the similarly orchestrated title track to "Rose of Cimarron" a year later. That classic, with its swelling strings and instantly memorable melody, remains a landmark in Poco's and even country-rock's history, but the album it comes from is also a strong entry into the band's catalog. Perhaps the other songs were overshadowed by "Rose of Cimarron"'s popularity, but a return to their bluegrass sound on Rusty Young's "Slowpoke," featuring Al Garth's fiddle and Young's banjo, proved that for all their stabs at a slicker style, they remained true to their original influences. Cotton's road-weary "Too Many Nights Too Long" is another stand-out performance worthy of more popularity in Poco's bulging catalog, and Garth's surprising alto sax break on "Starin' at the Sky" nicely foreshadows the instrument's prominent solo on "Heart of the Night" a year later. Cotton's "All Alone Together" also hearkens back to Poco's country beginnings and, along with "Tulsa Turnaround," closes the album on an appropriately rootsy note. Liner notes for this reissue frustratingly spend more time on the group's extensive history than focusing in on just these two releases, but the remastered audio is sharp and clean, and with 21 songs squeezed onto a single disc, this provides a real bang for your buck ~ Hal Horowitz
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