Jon Pousette-Dart - electric and acoustic guitars, slide guitar, vocals; John Troy - bass, vocals; John Curtis - electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, vocals; Jean Do Sifantus - drums, percussion; Guest: John Hall - guitar, vocals
At the dawn of the 1970s, aspiring singer-songwriter, Jon Pousette-Dart began building his reputation on the New England coffeehouse circuit. Performing solo acoustic, he initially attracted a following with his captivating voice and his lyrical sketches of romantic adventure. Soon teaming up with John Troy, the duo became a popular fixture on the Cambridge music scene, before recruiting multi-instrumentalist songwriter, John Curtis, into the fold. Becoming Pousette-Dart String Band, the acoustic trio gained the attention of entertainment mogul Don Law, who signed on as manager. With Law's encouragement, the group began refining their sound and developing new material while touring extensively throughout New England and building up a strong fan base.
By the middle of the decade, Jon Pousette-Dart's songwriting and the group's compelling performances had attracted enough attention to warrant a multi-album deal with Capitol Records and work began on their first Pousette-Dart Band album. Released in 1976, the self-titled debut was an impressive effort with fully fleshed out arrangements that took Pousette-Dart's songs of relationships and romantic entanglement to the next level. In support of the album, the group recruited a drummer and toured incessantly, becoming one of the busiest touring bands in the country. Meanwhile, the first album was becoming a staple of college radio.
Overflowing with tight harmonies and undeniably infectious song arrangements, the group delivered a second album, Amnesia, the following year, which was even more impressive than the debut. Unlike so many albums of the era, Amnesia was devoid of slick production and studio gimmicks. Instead, the album conveyed the solid musicianship and captivating vocal presence that the group was delivering onstage. Armed with an abundance of brilliantly written Pousette-Dart compositions, Amnesia was met with critical acclaim and received extensive FM radio play, raising the group's profile. The future never looked brighter as the Pousette-Dart Band continued touring in support of Amnesia, playing to wildly supportive audiences, and often sharing the bill with the band Orleans, which was an early champion of the group.
Recorded outdoors on the campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University, this Pousette-Dart Band performance captures this special moment in time. Opening for Orleans, all the elements that initially made the group so compelling are here. Featuring acoustic performances, electrifying band performances, and several guest-spots from Orleans-frontman John Hall, this is the Pousette-Dart Band having plenty of fun onstage before a truly appreciative audience. Showcasing the strongest material from their first two albums, in addition to an intriguing choice of covers, this set has plenty to offer the longtime fan as well as the bourgeoning listener.
The set kicks off with John Curtis' joyous Caribbean-flavored "Halo," from the debut album, followed by a cover of Randy Newman's classic, "Sail Away." An unrecorded Pousette-Dart original, "Night Time," follows; it begins sparse and introspective, but develops into a soulful groove. "There's been a Mistake" returns to first album material, with Jon Pousette-Dart offering the first impressive display of his trademark slide guitar work. To mix things up a bit, the next two numbers feature the group focusing on acoustic instrumentation, first with a compelling performance of "Freezing Hot," then with a sizzling instrumental workout on the Leo Kottke-esque original, "Fang's Rag."
Returning to the electric band approach and inviting Orleans' guitarist John Hall to the stage, they next deliver the infectious reggae-fied track, "Don't Know Why," raising the excitement level in the process, before returning to the first album for "What Can I Say," featuring lovely intertwining guitar work and harmonious vocals. Another interesting choice of covers follows, with the Tony Hazzard song "Fox on the Run." Initially popularized by country music legends, the Louvin Brothers, this is another fine example of the extraordinary harmonies and instrumental dexterity that initially attracted attention to the group. Another cover follows with Taj Mahal's "Corinna." With John Hall again adding additional guitar to the musical brew, this is another standout performance. These musicians apply an infectious swing to this bluesy number, giving it a joyous backwoods feel, not unlike how the Band would have approached it.
Another highlight follows with one of Jon Pousette-Dart's most impressionistic and emotional sketches, "All Your Lonely Hours." This hauntingly edgy number surprisingly segues into the reggae-flavored grooves of "What You Need." Here Pousette-Dart again gets to flex his slide guitar chops, but not to outshine the tight cohesive interplay from all concerned. After thanking Orleans for their support and encouragement, Pousette-Dart Band close with the title track from Amnesia. Featuring the unforgettable opening line, "When you hit me on the head with your beer bottle, something in my chemistry changed," this undeniably catchy country-rocker ends the set with Jon Pousette-Dart's sense of humor fully intact. Their exceptional songwriting and tight musicianship captivated audiences nationwide, and this live recording is a fine example of Pousette-Dart Band fully engaged and performing much of their finest early material when it was still fresh.
Additionally, three outtakes from the recording are included. Although the first two suffer from technical issues, and the third is just an incomplete fragment, these are nonetheless enjoyable addendums to this show. Both "County Line" and "Who's That Knocking" are standout Amnesia tracks; the first sourced from the acoustic sequence earlier in the show and the latter being one of John Curtis' most memorable and spirited songs. Despite the all too brief nature of the recording, the cover of Taj Mahal's "She Caught the Katy & Left Me a Mule to Ride" is also a delight.