Album of the Week, April 28: The Innocent Age by Dan Fogelberg
April 28, 2013 3 Comments
Dan Fogelberg was born in Peoria, IL in 1951. He came from a musical family and learned slide guitar and piano at an early age. He worked with a number of bands in Illinois as he finished high school and attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He came to the attention of Irving Azoff, manager of REO Speedwagon, who sent him to Nashville where he worked as a session musician and recorded his debut album, Home Free. The disc flopped, so Fogelberg regrouped, touring with Van Morrison and rethinking his musical direction. His next album, Souvenirs, was produced by Joe Walsh and included his first hit, Part of the Plan. This album provided the template for much of his future work, mixing quiet and introspective numbers with rockers and featuring Fogelberg’s insightful lyrics and lovely singing. After three more albums — including a collaboration with jazz flautist Tim Weisberg — he hit it big in 1979 with Phoenix, featuring the #2 hit Longer. Wishing to make the most of his success while honoring his roots, Fogelberg took nearly two years to record the follow-up.
|Title||The Innocent Age
|Label||Full Moon / Epic||Release Date||Aug. 1981|
|Producer||Dan Fogelberg and Marty Lewis|
|U.S. Chart||#6||U.K. Chart||n/c|
[U.S. Hot 100]
The Innocent Age was a two-disc meditation on life and the passage of time. Fogelberg credits Thomas Wolfe’s Of Time and the River as a major influence on his writing. While acknowledging the diverse forces that helped craft his art, Fogelberg shines on this album as a true force of his own. Despite strong album sales (and four Top 40 hits), he was still seen as a quiet singer-songwriter. This masterpiece ironically helped shatter that image while its hits cemented it for much of the public.
Things start off with the lovely Nexus, a wonderful reflection on the forces that shape our lives and something of a secular hymn to higher powers. Joni Mitchell provides a beautiful descant on the choruses, the first of the many guest stars. The Innocent Age is next, a lovely song about childhood and the dreams of youth. Dedicated to the Buffalo Springfield, it is an homage to the power of those dreams and a distinctive statement of Fogelberg’s vision for the album. Another quiet number, the wistful The Sand and the Foam, follows, pondering the fragility and transitory nature of those childhood dreams.
The pace picks up with In the Passage, a look at the journey from childhood days through life and the fact that we spend much of our time “madly dancing.” Part warning, part celebration, it notes the speedy passage of time. This theme is picked up in Lost In the Sun, another warning that the rapid pace of life can cost us our dreams if we aren’t careful. Despite the dark themes, these two tracks (the end of side one and opener of side two on the original vinyl) have an optimistic underpinning, allowing the listener space to listen, learn, and grow.
The next trio of songs were all big hits. Run For the Roses is a song about striving to be one’s best in life, framed around the early years of a racehorse. It was the final single from the album and has been adopted as an unofficial theme of the Kentucky Derby. The Leader of the Band, the third single, is a tribute to Fogelberg’s father, Lawrence, as high school music teacher and conductor. It’s a beautiful tribute and a moving celebration of the passing of dreams and traditions from one generation to the next. The album version includes a fragment of Sousa’s Washington Post March as a coda, arranged by Lawrence Fogelberg. Disc one (side two) closes with Same Old Lang Syne. Released well before the album, it was the first single, a bittersweet ballad of lost love and fond remembrance.
Disc two picks up those themes and challenges the listener to make the most of love. Stolen Moments is one of Fogelberg’s best songs, an upbeat soft rocker filled with hope. The Lion’s Share moves back into darker territory, building on hope to encourage the listeners not to settle for less than they deserve in the world. Another guest star appears on Only the Heart May Know as Emmylou Harris duets with Fogelberg on a lovely celebration of the private intimacies of love. Their voices work perfectly together, providing one of the album’s vocal highlights.
The Reach is a work song, reminiscent of John Denver’s Calypso, as it pays tribute to the hard work of fishermen and the crafts that they rely on. It’s a beautiful celebration and one of the most touching moments on the disc.
The final side opens with a brief instrumental, Aireshire Lament, the quietest moment before the powerful closing tracks. Up next is Times Like These, a desperate reflection on the chaos of modern life and the struggle to keep up. It’s followed by the album’s biggest hit, Hard to Say, perhaps Fogelberg’s finest song. A wistful look at how love can come apart, it is both a warning and a celebration, beautifully constructed and sung. (Eagle Glenn Frey provides some nice backing vocals as well.)
Empty Cages is one of the most rock-oriented songs on the album, a look at the traps of life, the ways we can succeed and celebrate despite them, and the inevitable passage of time. The final track, the stately Ghosts, starts quietly and builds to a perfectly suited climax, celebrating the forces that shape our lives and the ways we each try to make our mark on the world as we pass through it. The song is a perfect bookend to Nexus and captures the spirit of the album’s wonderful journey.
FURTHER LISTENING: Before his death from prostate cancer in 2007, Dan Fogelberg released seventeen studio albums (including two with Tim Weisberg). They cover fairly wide musical territory from the country-tinged rock of Home Free to the straightforward ballad pop of Windows and Walls to the delightful bluegrass celebration of High Country Snows. Every album has something worthwhile to offer, especially for fans of well-written soft rock, insightful lyrics, and strong musicianship. Other than The Innocent Age, the finest is Phoenix, which gets a bit heavy-handed but has a number of great tracks. NetherLands is also a standout. For fans of Fogelberg’s hits, the 1982 Greatest Hits release is a perfect capsule.