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.
Arista remastered Graham Parker's masterpiece, Squeezing Out Sparks, for CD reissue, adding the previously promotional-only live album Live Sparks as an added bonus. Though it is somewhat disconcerting to hear the same songs in the same order in a row, it's an excellent addition for hardcore collectors, especially since the sound on the original album is considerably improved. And, Live Sparks is a nervy, energetic live recording, especially with the addition of "I Want You Back (Alive)" and "Mercury Poisoning".
Matthews Southern Comfort is a transitional album for Matthews. Having recently exited Fairport Convention, this record pays tribute to that period of his career in both material ("A Castle Far") and in the choice of musicians who back him (many of them from Fairport Convention). At the same time, songs like "A Commercial Proposition" indicate where Matthews' future work is headed. With Second Spring, the other album included on this two-fer, Southern Comfort is a real band, and in addition to Matthews also includes Roger Swallow (ex-Marmalade) and Marc Griffiths (ex-Spooky Tooth). Although there is really nothing that makes this a memorable record, it's still quite nice overall.