Head East: John Schlitt (vocals); Michael Sommervlle (guitar); Roger Boyd (keyboard); Dan Birney (bass); Steve Huston (drums).
Includes liner notes by Tony Sachs.
Photographers: Bonnie Schiffman; Mike Fink; Mark Hanauer.
The line that divides a broadly popular rock band who makes it into the history books (and a lot of record collections) from a worthy also-ran is not hard to draw. When one looks at the career of the Midwestern mainstream rock group Head East, who released seven modestly selling albums between 1975 and 1980, and compares them to such contemporaries as the Doobie Brothers, Boston, Kansas, Foreigner, and Styx, all of whom played the same kind of music, the difference is simple: Those other guys had hit singles, and Head East didn't. It's not that the band's music was too complicated or inaccessible; as this, their first-ever compilation, demonstrates, their music often boasted hooks and other catchy elements. But it also shows that they were more interested in coming up with music that would work in concert than music that would succeed on the radio. It's a subtle distinction, perhaps, but the songs are often collections of showy instrumental pieces punctuated with short, chant-like vocal lines, the sort of thing likely to impress a live crowd, but not the kind of consistent writing that draws in listeners who hear it repeatedly over the airwaves. Nowhere does one find that big, sentimental ballad that would have opened the band up to a broader, more female, more passive audience. Trading off vocals and frequently using harmonies, they sing well but not distinctively, and though their playing can be tasty, they never seem to come up with licks that stick. The compilation is well-chosen. There are the near-hits "Never Been Any Reason," "Love Me Tonight," and "Since You Been Gone," as well as concert favorites like "Jefftown Creek" and "Get up and Enjoy Yourself." But even at their best, Head East is a band whose music, while consistently enjoyable, is never compelling. ~ William Ruhlmann