High Country Snows

Dan Fogelberg

Full Moon/Epic, 1985


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Dan Fogelberg had to be between a rock and a hard place in the mid-‘80s. He had just come off pulling a major coup d’etat, releasing the double-album The Innocent Age against the advice of his label, which became the disc that defined his career. Anyone would have a difficult time following up such an endeavor, which he found with 1984’s Windows And Walls -- not to mention that the musical tastes of both radio and the consumer had changed, leaving his style of storytelling pop music out in the cold.

Fogelberg did what probably seemed like the only option to him: he stayed true to himself and recorded the music he wanted to record. So, you can imagine that when he delivered the album High Country Snows to the suits in 1985, they had a collective heart attack when they heard this mix of country and bluegrass, two musical forms that were definitely not commercial.

Yes, Fogelberg turned his back on popular music on this disc and followed his internal muse. And for that we all should be quite thankful, as this disc, admittedly not one of his best known in his discography, could arguably be his best.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Now, I can tolerate country and bluegrass music, but it’s not like I would search this stuff out on the radio dial or on iTunes. But Fogelberg does something interesting with this genre of music, much like he did with pop music throughout his career – he makes it accessible to the common person. Tracks like “Mountain Pass” and “The Outlaw” are just so enjoyable out of the box that you might be surprised to find yourself asking why you don’t listen to this more often.

There are a few curveballs tossed at the listener as well. When the opening track “Down The Road” clocks in at a whopping 27 seconds, you might find yourself scratching your head as to why it was included. But as it leads into “Mountain Pass,” you quickly come to understand its inclusion. Likewise, “Wolf Creek” is a killer instrumental, but since Fogelberg’s vocals are such a unique fingerprint to his music, you have to wonder why he chose to include an instrumental.

“Higher You Climb” might seem like a preachy way to end this disc, but it, too, fits, as it sort of combines the Fogelberg of old -- that is, singer/songwriter -- with the new style Fogelberg, all wrapped up in a gospel-like rhythm. The thing is, it works, and it works well.

Perhaps the only weak moment on High Country Snows, ironically, is a story-telling song, “Sutter’s Mill.” I can’t quite put my finger on it, but Fogelberg never really seems to get the tale to gel correctly on this one, and it drags out too long. Still, one misstep – and a minor one at that -- hardly destroys a solid overall effort.

Yes, this album is a departure in style for Fogelberg, but it really shouldn’t be a surprising one if you paid close attention to his career from the beginning. Commercial success aside, it’s almost like everything Fogelberg had done prior was all leading to this road. Fortunately, both for Fogelberg and for us, he learned his lessons well over the years, and High Country Snows excels because of this.

Rating: A-

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© 2008 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Full Moon/Epic, and is used for informational purposes only.