Nothing ever tasted so sweet as the madeleines grandmother used to make. Nothing ever felt so free as running wild on the playground. No folk-rock jams ever grooved with the same sun-and-shadows charm as the ones that flowed forth from America’s greatest-hits LP. At least that’s what I imagine Ben Kweller, Ryan Adams, and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James were thinking when they agreed to lend a hand on Here & Now, America’s first major-label album in more than 20 years. Ex-Smashing Pumpkin James Iha and Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger must’ve also harbored a hard-on for West Coast folk-rock—they coproduced this curiosity. While all these ’70s supplicants undoubtedly spent many a smoky Sunday morning with the burnished harmonies and MOR Neil Youngisms of “A Horse With No Name,” “Sister Golden Hair,” and some other less-good songs, this misguided effort to move America (Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell) out of Arcadia and back into the real world has proven to be a cruel trick.
Here & Now does nothing to prompt reconsideration of the America oeuvre (which has its highest points revisited live on a second disc here). Nor do the new tunes suggest that Buckley and Bunnell aren’t just as musically toothless and lyrically facile as you probably forgot they always were. Fittingly, one song is about chasing rainbows. Predictably, another song is about Indian summers. Sadly, the best song, “Golden,” was written by James and sounds like Tom Petty in a mellow mood. Ringing acoustic guitars and melancholy harmonies drift indiscernably from track to track, arguing unconvincingly that this new America honors the memory of the band that lives only in the heads of the ones who tried to help.