ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM: "Plantation Harbor" (Asylum 5E-529). THE CONCERT: With Joe Walsh, Wednesday at Merriweather Post Pavilion.
A guy could get spoiled in the Sixties. Back then, it seemed as if albums were collections of singles laid track to track. Think about old Beatles albums, or old Rascals or Stones or Beach Boys albums: Almost any song on either side could be cut loose for airplay, and most of them were.
But the rule has become the exception. Most albums now crutch along on a couple of strong numbers, dragging the rest behind. (The esthetics and the economics of this phenomenon may be related: The last few albums to break album sales records -- "Rumours" and "Saturday Night Fever," for example -- were fueled by multiple single hits.)
What separates a good album from the fair ones is the average quality of the songs that fill up the time between the really good tracks. By the standard, at least, Joe Vitale's second solo effort, "Plantation Harbor," squeezes past the mass of forgettable releases into the worth-a-listen rack and maybe even to the promising pile.
Depsite the Gino Vanelli-in-Margaritaville cover photos, Vitale isn't into the Coconut Grove groove. Vitale is one of those utility fielders -- drums, mostly, and keyboards -- who could paper a bedroom with recording credits and still pass unrecognized through Kemp-Mill Records.
Vitale hit the sticks early. He and his brother fronted an elementary-school band; in junior high his rockability group, the Echoes, cut a single for Warner Bros.
A couple of years later, working the Ohio club circuit, he became friendly with Joe Walsh, and in 1972 (after Walsh's tour with the James Gang and Vitale's tenure as an Amboy Duke) they founded Barnstorm. Vitale recorded a solo album during the Barnstorming era, but it foundered.
Once Barnstorm disbanded , Vitale continued to work with Walsh in the studio and on tour. He has also backed Steve Stills, the Still-Neil Young band, the reunited CS&N, Peter Frampton and the Eagles. Not surprisingly, Walsh is the major guest performer on "Plantation Harbor," along with Joe Lala, Tim Schmidt, Still and Nash, the Chicago Horns, Don Felder and Mickey Thomas.
Although Vitale is clearly the centerpiece (playing organ, synthesizers, clavinet, flute, vibes, percussion and what-all), Walsh seems indispensable, adding the same broad and witty guitar work that marked his production of Dan Fogelberg's "Souvenirs." Mickey Thomas makes only a brief appearance, backing Vitale's vocals on a shuffly blues called "Never Gonna Leave You Alone," but it's good enough to erase the screechy sensation left by his recent radio forays.
Less impressive but noteworthy are "Laugh-Laugh" (not the old Beau Brummels song), a sentimental love song about the visions of home life Vitale clings to while on tour, and "Bamboo Jungle," another island-style swing. "I'm Flying," inspired by a trip Vitale took in a hot-air balloon, has pretty Stills-Schmidt-Nash harmony to tickle the ear but little to say, and the supposedly breezy strings sound more like "Jaws" than Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
The most interesting failure on the album is "Lady on the Rock," a middle-metal patriotic-ditty that Vitale says was inspired by the returning Iranian hostages (the lady with "fire in the hair," etc. is the Statue of Liberty. Get it?). Although Vitale claims he wrote it because "all the enthems every written are either country or tearjerker ballads," it falls short of the humor and ingenuity of Charlie Daniels' "In America" -- even with Walsh's riffling off "The Star Spangled Banner" on slide.
The one instrumental cut, "Them from Cabin Weirdos," was recorded at producer Bill Szymczyk's cabin in the North Carolina Blue Ridge. The drums are miked twice, one from 150 yards down the hillside, and the bird singing at the beginning is real and unedited. These sidelights are more memorable than the melody, however.
By far the finest track on the album is "Man Gonna Love You," a reggae-style song of both restraint and great warmth. "I hear dat love make de world go around, but my woman had made me dizzy thunk! She does." Vitale says he doesn't think Americans can play real reggae, but he has produced one of the best white evocations yet. A four-star single, if anybody's interested.