For all the success of The Eagles, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Flying Burrito Brothers et al, UK ears weren’t quite ready for a British take on country rock back in the early 70s.
But one unlikely early adopter was David Gilmour, and he was highly impressed when he saw a gang of tuneful, harmony-toting longhairs playing at a friend’s wedding in early 1973. He got up on stage to play Neil Young’s Heart Of Gold, and admitted, to their surprise, that he was actually a big fan of country rock. He ended up producing Unicorn’s second, third and fourth albums, and these reissues suggest he did a sterling job, even if his last effort was given an ill-advised overhaul.
1974’s Blue Pine Trees is the most clearly country-soaked of the trio, and the Floyd man had a hand in that, adding gorgeously woozy pedal steel to Kenny Baker’s compositions Sleep Song and Just Wanna Hold You. Elsewhere, the laid-back, mandolin-led Electric Night is another thing of beauty, and the extras aren’t half bad either – the pick of them being the fragile, organ-accompanied radio session Ballad Of John And Julie.
The bonus content on this package of 1976’s Too Many Crooks is less essential, consisting of live studio session versions of album tracks, but the album itself stands up well 41 years on. It’s a rockier affair than Blue Pine Trees, with the result that on boogie-based jams like Keep On Going there are distinct echoes of Big Star. Elsewhere, the original version of No Way Out Of Here, which Gilmour covered on his own debut solo album, is a weary, sun-dappled gem.
Unfortunately, 1977’s One More Tomorrow saw new producer Muff Winwood brought in to give a more commercial sheen to Gilmour’s initial production. The cover of Creedence’s Have You Ever Seen The Rain is saccharine and anodyne, and the airbrushed feel continues, with the previously earthy organ now sounding better suited to Leo Sayer ballads. Meanwhile, Baker’s previously charming lyrical idiosyncracies are starting to fail him. British Rail Romance’s cantering fare could do with having its poetic licence revoked when it tells us, ‘I love you, yes I love your eyes and I love your ears.’
Although this reissue includes two likeable extras from earlier studio sessions (All Crazy People and a demo of Keep On Going), it’s not enough to save a distinctly forgettable album. Thankfully, they had done enough before that to ensure that their place in UK country rock history – and their footnote in a prog icon’s career – is small but significant.