Warner Brothers Records, 1997

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


In many ways, the career of Ambrosia proves that you can indeed be two bands at once, if you're good enough - but you'll probably get snubbed for it. Five albums spanning 1975 to 1982 took the band from being one of the darlings of early FM radio to purveyors of slick, harmonized pop music; the path was strewn with letters from Kurt Vonnegut, guest appearances from Leonard Bernstein's favorite violinist, and critical acclaim. Anthology is a comprehensive overview of the forgotten band of American progressive rock.

So why, you ask, are they forgotten? Simply, they committed the cardinal sin that the progressive rock establishment can't forgive; they became popular and successful, even if only for a brief time, and to be fair they forgot their own roots as well. Fortunately, Anthology focuses much closer on the roots than the last few bitter fruits, and in truth it's a treat for prog rock and pop music fans alike, though a few of the hits are still cloying from overplay.

Ok, complaints first. Why don't more greatest hits compilations put things in chronological order? It's hard to get a mental picture of how a band developed and changed if the song order on the CD jumps all over, and my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Anthology is no exception. It's frankly irritating. Especially in this case, it would be nice to just be able to play the earlier work and avoid the later songs, because gods know I've heard them enough.

Now that that's off my chest, Anthology does a good job of documenting Ambrosia's career. The 1975 self-titled debut contributes both the pop hit "Holdin' On To Yesterday" and two tracks that would be worthy of any luminary of progressive rock, "Nice Nice Very Nice" (a nod to Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, written and performed with the author's blessing) and "Time Waits For No One". The production of Alan Parsons has held up very well over the years, certainly better than Parsons' production of Paul McCartney and Wings from the same period. The progressive vein continues with tracks from the band's second CD, Somewhere I've Never Travelled, including the title track (here presented with a new instrumental intro, "And") and the Copland-influenced "Cowboy Star".

The end of the prog era for Ambrosia was near, though, with the 1978 Life Beyond L.A. and its huge mega-massive-gargantuan-badly-overplayed-in-the-eighties "How Much I Feel". While there are still a couple of prog-influenced tracks remaining ("Angola" and "Life Beyond L.A."), it's all soft rock from here on out, with "Biggest Part Of Me" and "You're The Only Woman" being the sort of songs Ambrosia is best remembered for now.

Three formerly unreleased tracks round out the CD. "Sky Is Falling" is excellent, a rollicking, infectuous romp and "I Just Can't Let Go", a duet with Michael McDonald and James Ingram, is sweet and heartfelt, cleaned up with the rerecording of new rhythm and instrumental tracks. Unfortunately, the third new track, "Mama Don't Understand", is rather flat and forgettable. (Remember, sometimes bonus tracks are forgotten gems, and sometimes they're songs that were left off CDs for a reason.)

After Ambrosia's 1982 breakup, members moved on to other bands. Bassist Joe Puerta joined Bruce Hornsby and the Range, drummer Burleigh Drummond formed Tin Drum, and lead vocalist David Pack became a producer of some note, as well as reuniting with Parsons' on 1992's Try Anything Once. The band reformed in 1989 for occasional tours.

Ambrosia is slowly being rediscovered by progressive rock fans who are looking past the vaguely saccharine ballads and finding the complexities underneath. Anthology comes strongly recommended for anyone who wants to make that effort. It's worth it.

Rating: B+

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