On The Border


Asylum, 1974


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Desperado, for all its virtues, showed the Eagles moving in a more country direction than Glenn Frey and Don Henley were comfortable with, and so they attempted to steer the ship back the other way by bringing on a second guitarist (Don Felder) and writing more rock-oriented songs. The end result is a mix of the two styles that flows better than it ought to.

Sure, there is an obvious hit single (“Already Gone,” a fun rocker that’s among the band’s best songs) and too many ballads, but it’s clear on their third album that the band is embracing country, rock and a few Southern music tropes to broaden its sound. The first side veers from “Gone” to the flat-out bluegrass of “Midnight Flyer” to the country ballad “My Man,” a tribute to Gram Parsons. “You Never Cry Like A Lover” is a sneaky song, an ersatz Don Henley ballad that shifts gears halfway through with a very good guitar solo and ends on a strong note. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The first side/half ends with the snarling title track directly influenced by Joe Walsh; in hindsight, this sound would predict the band’s career in the second half of the decade, when they ditched Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner, brought on Walsh and all but abandoned their country/Western origins. What’s interesting here is how Meisner and Leadon are still equals, with the musicians sharing vocals and/or songwriting duties throughout. Granted, “On The Border” is a bit too close to “Rocky Mountain Way” in structure to be necessary, and the handclaps and background vocals sound a bit grafted on without adding much, but it’s still fun.

“James Dean” is a more overt and Southern rock homage to its title character than “My Man,” but it fits, while the cover of “Ol’ 55” is yet another country ballad (note: one of these goes a long way). The guitar work is the only noteworthy part of Meisner’s “Is It True” and “Good Day In Hell” is another, lesser Walsh knockoff and another step toward the rock direction Frey and Henley wanted. The album closes with the hit ballad “Best Of My Love,” much as Greatest Hits 1971-75 did, because there’s really no way to follow it, as it’s one of Henley and Frey’s most affecting songs in this vein.

On the Border has too many mediocre songs to be essential, but its eclectic nature is the most appealing thing about it, and it’s a great place to start exploring the band’s back catalog beyond the overplayed radio hits that everyone knows by heart. More than the band’s other three pre-Walsh albums, this one establishes that the Eagles were truly a band, not Henley/Frey and assorted studio help, and even if that doesn’t make this album all that exciting or necessary, its best moments are as good as anything the band ever did.

Rating: B-

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