Wednesday, August 20, 2008

James Iha - Let It Come Down (1998)

When I first heard the latest CD from the quintessential 70s soft-rock band, America, I was surprised to learn that one of the co-producers of their 2007 comeback, Homecoming, was James Iha, co-founder and guitarist for the 90s rock band, Smashing Pumpkins. It's not because I'm a big fan of the Pumpkins. To the contrary, I barely know their music. The surprise was discovering that a member of a critically acclaimed modern rock band would work with an artist who was not even considered cool back in their own heyday of the 70s. Iha and his co-producer, Adam Schlesinger of Fountains Of Wayne, worked with the band famous for "A Horse With No Name" without trying to update America's sound. They simply used their talents to enhance what Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell always did best.

Iha must have a strong affection for America, and the genre they represent, because in 1998, years before he produced Homecoming, the ex-Pumpkin released his one and only solo CD, Let It Come Down, at the height of Smashing Pumpkins fleeting popularity. In the process he created music that could have become part of America's songbook. The disc is full of melodic acoustic guitars, low-key electric guitars, appropriately restrained vocals, and there are a couple of tracks with a small string section added for color. Thematically, and typically for the genre, the songs are about either the good side or the bad side of romantic relationships. You can tell that Iha was serious about this CD because his buddy Schlesinger and all-star studio instrumentalist Greg Leisz each take a turn supporting him. Schlesinger plays piano and bass on "Country Girl," and Leisz contributes pedal and lapsteel on "Lover Lover."

I'm sure Iha knew that recording a soft-rock album would take fans of the Pumpkins by surprise and to the guitarist's credit he dared to do something very different from his day job. Ten years later I have no idea how fans of his famous band received Let It Come Down when it was first released. However, fans of America, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Firefall, Little River Band, Seals and Crofts, and other 70s staples of the genre should be attracted to this album immediately.

1 comment:

  1. As I remember, it really wasn't *too much* of a surprise, as the few Pumpkins songs Iha wrote/sang lead vocals on (previous to releasing his solo album) were pretty mellow. In any case, any potential surprise from "Let It Come Down" was overshadowed by the bigger surprise of the Pumpkins' "Adore," which was released the same year.

    Off the top of my head (pre-1998 Iha):
    "Blew Away"
    "Take Me Down"
    "...said sadly"
    "The Bells"
    "The Boy"

    There are probably fan-made videos with those songs on YouTube (if you're interested to check 'em out).

    Great post, by the way!