American Flyer: 'Spirit of a Woman' (1977)

Rediscovering lost music via the vinyl bins at secondhand stores

Find: American Flyer, Spirit of a Woman

Place: Goodwill Store (4217 Chapman Highway)

Craig Fuller has a wonderful and distinctive voice. You may not recognize his name, but he's the voice behind Pure Prairie League's sublime single "Amie," and its companion song "Fallin' In and Out of Love," from the 1972 album Bustin' Out. If you don't know who Craig Fuller is, you've probably never heard of Doug Yule, Steve Katz, or Eric Kaz either. Yule is the most famous of the three, having replaced John Cale in the Velvet Underground in 1968. As for Katz and Kaz, the former is a founding member of Blood, Sweat, and Tears, and the latter was in the cult psychedelic band Blues Magoos.

My brain is crammed with useless rock music knowledge like this, which used to be somewhat impressive to some people (mostly other 1970s music nerds). But now you can find out about any of this stuff on the Internet in a matter of seconds, so my knowledge of arcane songs and albums and performers is tragicomic. Music trivia is like a great Pacific Ocean garbage island in my brain—it takes up a lot of space, has a half-life of 5,000 years, and will never allow anything else to sprout up in its place.

Yet sometimes the knowledge pays off. When on a recent sojourn to the Goodwill store I first encountered a battered Spirit of a Woman by American Flyer, I passed it over (primarily because lurking beneath it was a copy of Blue Oyster Cult's Agents of Fortune, and you can never have too many copies of Agents of Fortune). But I went back to it because I remembered that the members of American Flyer were Craig Fuller, Doug Yule, Eric Kaz, and Steve Katz, and that another American Flyer album was produced by Beatles' producer George Martin.

Spirit of a Woman (not produced by George Martin) is a wonderful album. Fuller sounds great as usual, and the music is soft country-rock played by professionals at the height of their powers. The record is reminiscent of the Eagles' first album, though the production is not quite as slick and the songs not quite as hooky. I happen to like the Eagles—Don Henley's pretension and Glenn Frey's execrable solo career (remember "Smugglers Blues?") notwithstanding—so the album was a revelation. If you like country-infused rock or pop but are tired of the overexposed Eagles or you overdosed on country rock during the alt-country craze, this is for you. The album is evocative of a time and a place—Southern California in the late 1970s. But it sounds fresh, primarily because the songwriting is so good. The up-tempo "Spirit of a Woman" sounds like a great lost Poco track, and "I'm Blowin' Away," is beautiful and touching. Linda Ronstadt is a backup singer on the album, and I think that's her singing harmony with Fuller on the chorus of the latter song. I think you can hear James Taylor in the background as well.

There's no filler here. The gentle country-rock vibe can get old really fast, but on this album the quality songwriting, the sweet harmonies, and the sheer craftsmanship overwhelm any impulse to pick the needle up off the vinyl.