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Anyone who’d been listening closely to the songs Michael Nesmith wrote while a member of the Monkees (or heard his hard to find 1968 solo debut for Dot) already knew that Nesmith had a soft spot for country music. But when Nesmith left the pre-Fab Four to form the First National Band, he dove head first into the twangy stuff, and if he wasn’t the first guy to merge country and rock (Gram Parsons easily beat him to the punch on that), he was certainly doing it well before country-rock became the next big thing, and Magnetic South made it clear he had his own distinct way of bringing the two genres together. Nesmith put together a top-flight band who sound at once relaxed and thoroughly committed, whether easing through a laid-back number like “Joanne” or kicking up some dust on “Mama Nantucket”; O.J. “Red” Rhodes’ pedal steel work is superb throughout, while bassist John London and drummer John Ware offer strong, unobtrusive support (the great Earl P. Hall also sits in on piano). And though the phrase “cosmic cowboy” wasn’t coined for Nesmith, it could have been; here, he indulges himself in a consciously poetic and philosophical lyrical style that’s a good bit more abstract than one would expect from a former Monkee, though Nesmith’s dry sense of humor is always lurking around the corner, ready to rescue him when he slips too deep into pretension. Mixing a country sound with a rocker’s instincts and blending airy thoughts on the nature of life and love with iconography of life in the West that brought together the old and the new, Michael Nesmith reveled in contradictions on Magnetic South, making them sound as comfortable as well-worn cowboy boots and as fun as a Saturday night barn dance. It’s a minor masterpiece of country-rock, and while the Eagles may have sold more records, Nesmith yodels a hell of a lot better than any of them.

-AMG

DOWNLOAD:
Michael Nesmith-MAGNETIC SOUTH (1970)
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