THE ALBUMS JESSE COLIN YOUNG -- American Dreams Elektra 6E-157. JACK TEMPCHIN -- Jack Tempchin, Arista AB 4193.
In the late '60s and early '70s, when America's growing pains seemed best expressed by rock'n'roll bands, there were artists who molded careers out of pacifism. Scott Mac-Kenzie urged us to wear flowers in our hair. Donovan told us to wear our love like Heaven. The Youngbloods, obviously feeling that we had plenty to wear, simply asked us to "get together." It was enough.
"Get Together" became a national hit and the anthem for a social movement that had already begun to take a more aggressive stance. When it faded from the airwaves the Youngbloods' stature gradually eroded, but leader Jesse Colin Young remained a popular figure and started a solo career marked by consistent, if not exceptional, quality.
Jesse Colin Young was scheduled to return to Washington, with Livingston Taylor and Jack Tempchin, Saturday, in an act similar to those of James Taylor, Gordon Lightfoot and other singer/songwriters whose music tends toward sameness and whose personalities are often colored only by their lyrics.
But Young canceled his appearance here, so his new album, "American Dreams," is the closest look at him we're going to get for a while, anyway. It's his first release for Elektra (he's done six solo projects for Warners), and in it he tackles some themes -- both musically and lyrically -- that seem beyond him. "American Dreams Suite," for example, is an autobiographical medley that takes up all of side two. To hear Young describe it, you'd think he was attempting to write the great American novel on vinyl:
"The suite, which has five sections with other movements within them, encompasses elements of blues, rock and roll, Jamaican music and all the American influences. Our five-piece band is enhanced by an orchestra and a big chorus (sometimes it sounds like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir) which can rise from a whisper to a crash."
Elektra, in its information sheet, modestly adds that the piece "resonates with the experiences of a generation." What it really resonates with is the lyric experience of Jesse Colin Young: simplistic, with a nod toward the melodramatic.
That type of expression made "Get Together" and some later songs effective because universal ideas (love, peace) were stated in basic terms. "American Dreams Suite," though, is more involved and requires more complicated ingredients. Unfortunately, despite a tight band and some instrumental inventiveness, the project falls short.
Phrases like "Tell me how did it feel / It felt so real" and "Sister will you reach out / Brother will you reach out / Hey come on and reach out" bring the piece down to a grammar-school level. The finale, "What If We Stay," is sophomoric dialogue accentuated by intrusive orchestration and makes Young sound like a peacenik caught in a time-warp.
But the first side of the album leaves room for optimism. Young does a spirited, if mild, cover of Buddy Holly's "Rave On" and a smoothed-over version of the soul classic "Knock on Wood." His own "Slow and Easy" is more rhythmically active than most of his previous work, and "Maui Sunrise" is perfect for Young's airy delivery. Former Youngblood Jerry Corbitt adds some energy to Young's languid vocals and most of the production is crisp and tasteful.
Jesse Colin Young has survived for years on charm, style and enough good material to get by. "American Dreams" has charm, style and just enough good material to get by. It follows that Young will continue to survive.
Jack Tempchin, who was to open for Young Saturday, has based his survival on session playing and songwriting. A few years ago he formed the Funky Kings with Polar Bears leader Jules Shear. That band produced "Slow Dancing," which Johnny Rivers rode to Top 10 success. Now Tempchin has a self-titled debut album that, not surprisingly, features his own songs.
Tempchin's voice sounds a bit like Chris Hillman's, and his tunes have the Southern California cowboy sound best represented by Jackson Browne and the Eagles. Funny we should say that, since Tempchin wrote "Peaceful Easy Feeling" (which he performs here) and since he gets album studio help from Browne and the Eagles' Glenn Frey. He also gets some writing assisatnce from J. D. Souther and Tom Waits, and exhibits a likable, if derivative, playing style.
Tempchin is a talent, but his present strength is composition, not singing.Still, he's obviously happy to be performing his own stuff, and shows that sincerity can usually camouflage most weaknesses.