Michael Nesmith

Magnetic South (Pacific Arts 1970)


I’ve already covered the history of Michael Nesmith on a previous post, so we’ll skip the biographical information. Magnetic South is his followup to his debut album, The Wichita Train Whistle Sings, and it is the first where he begins to really shine as a mellow, somewhat stoned country rocker. I really cannot explain why I rank a former Monkee as an equal to your Nick Drakes, Jackson c. Franks and Gram Parsons, but his music is so unforced and relaxed. There is a cozy vibe to his albums that make them seem like home. His appropriations of West Coast psych and traditional country balladry don’t aim for innovation, but a simple good time. Although “Hollywood” sort of veers into some honkytonk Doors fantasia, the rest is just a bunch of straightforward country tunes bedecked in bellbottoms.

Although he lacks the charisma and tragedy of a Gram Parsons, Nesmith’s string of solo albums should have cemented with a much stronger reputation than the former Monkee with a Liquid paper fortune. “Keys to the Car” could pass for a George Jones number, but the awkwardly yodeling vocals and chorus about getting stoned would make ol’ George drive his lawnmower off the road. So I don’t become too obscure, Jones was once caught driving his lawnmower to the bar when his car keys were out of his reach. Nesmith is also comfortable with twangy cosmic ballads that document the weary life of a traveling musician where cities, roads and people just melt one rorshach inkblot. Magnetic South isn’t his best effort, but it does pave the way for the progressions made on Loose Salute and Nevada Fighter.

Michael Nesmith

Nevada Fighter(Pacific Arts 1971)


Before I finally heard Michael Nesmith’s string of classic country-rock albums, I was entrenched in my narrow view of him as the Monkee in a stocking cap and a Liquid Paper fortune. I read positive reviews of his 70s solo work, but marked them up as twaddle on par with endorsements of Utopia or Nilsson. I couldn’t break free from his association with bubblegum pop and zany antics and the idea of Nesmith as Byrdsian troubadour was just plain crazy talk. However, a friend taped Nevada Fighter for me and it knocked the door ajar and let some light shine on my cloudy judgement. After further purchases and tape trades, I fell in love with everything Michael Nesmith released between 1968-1977 and what came after isn’t anything to shake a stick at either.

I love how Nevada Fighter starts off n such a jaunty note with the rollicking country-tonk of “The Grand Ennui.” It kind of reminds me of Link Wray’s “La De Da” which is ironic since they were both released in the same year and marked new directions for both artists. The opener isn’t representative of the bulk of Nevada Fighter since Nesmith is in an introspective mood here. The abundance of pedal steel helps to accentuate the bruised sentiments and pensive pace of Nevada Fighter and it showcases Nesmith’s ability to really milk the emotion from a song. It is his saddest album, but not his best work as that title belongs to Magnetic South or Loose Salute. I may post some more of his early work as time goes by, so check back here if you enjoy this one.