Since 1958, McCabe’s Guitar Shop has been a premier destination on Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica, California. Eleven years after its founding, McCabe’s began hosting concerts in a tradition that continues to this very day. Over the years, numerous notables have recorded albums at the small venue (capacity of around 150) including Mike Bloomfield, Townes Van Zandt, Maria Muldaur, and Tom Paxton. Now, thanks to 7a Records, that roster has a stellar new addition.
Late in 2019, the label specializing in all things Monkees released Cosmic Partners: The McCabe’s Tapes, preserving for posterity Michael Nesmith’s August 18, 1973 set featuring the late pedal steel legend Red Rhodes. This intimate and revealing snapshot of two artists in perfect harmony makes a powerful follow-up to 7a’s 2018 release of Nesmith’s Live at the Troubadour. Whereas that release documented The First National Band Redux, this one features original First National Band member Rhodes plus Colin Cameron on bass, and Danny Lane on drums.
Nesmith describes Rhodes as a cosmic partner in his onstage patter preserved here, and their intuitive interplay is evident throughout the entire disc from the opening, gorgeously melancholic “Tomorrow and Me” (with the liquid, searching pedal steel drifting throughout) to the encore of “Silver Moon” (sadly cut short by a tape running out). For the McCabe’s setlist, Nesmith tackled material from his 1970-1973 run of RCA albums including Magnetic South, Loose Salute, Nevada Fighter, And the Hits Just Keep on Comin’, and the LP which the concert was ostensibly promoting, Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash. (Only 1972’s Tantamount to Treason Vol. 1 was overlooked in the set.) Those albums – released with The First National Band, Second National Band, and solo – have become benchmarks in the country-rock genre while nodding appropriately to pop and psychedelia as well.
The opening one-two punch at McCabe’s of “Tomorrow and Me” and “The Upside of Goodbye” echoed the tunes’ positions as the first two cuts on the ironically-titled And the Hits Just Keep on Comin’. The performances as beautifully captured here in vivid sound from the two-track stereo soundboard mix find Nesmith in high spirits. “Nevada Fighter” is transformed into a taut, tough, and funky shuffle, while “Some of Shelly’s Blues” is affectingly drawled. (The latter was recorded by The Stone Poneys on their third album. Bobby Kimmel, one-third of the band, founded the McCabe’s concert series in 1969. Nesmith quipped at McCabe’s that it had “been recorded by about 374 people…”)
Rhodes’ virtuosity shines not only in his deep connection with Nesmith but when he takes the lead, as on the instrumental versions here of “Rose City Chimes” (a 1970 B-side) and the oldie-but-goodie “Poinciana,” the latter of which was on Rhode’s 1973 album Velvet Hammer in a Cowboy Band for Nesmith’s Countryside imprint. An instrumental version of “The Crippled Lion” from Magnetic South is another highlight. (It’s all the more impressive considering that Nesmith recollects that Rhodes played under the influence of various substances!)
A cover of “The One Rose,” popularized by “Singing Brakeman” Jimmie Rodgers, adds to the freewheeling, warm spirit of the evening. While “Different Drum” is absent (despite being played at Kimmel’s club), favorites “Propinquity” and “Joanne” are both here. Nesmith prefaces the tender reading of “Joanne” with his late friend Lon Chaney, Jr.’s advice to “Play the hit!” A considerable amount of Nesmith’s dry, humorous patter is included on Cosmic Partners, too, including the lengthy monologue “The Great Escape” about Monkeemania and an encounter with the law.
The compact disc of Cosmic Partners is packaged to 7a’s usual high standards in an attractive six-panel digipak. A full-color 24-page booklet has a selection of terrific photos as well as liner note essays from Nesmith (as told to Melodie Akers), producer Ed Heffelfinger, Circe Link, and Joe Alterio. Co-producer Christian Nesmith has superbly mastered the sound from the tape recorded at McCabe’s by Ron Marks. In addition to the CD, a limited vinyl edition (which has already sold out from the label) is still available in limited quantities (see the links below).
Both inside and outside of The Monkees, Michael Nesmith has always travelled to the beat of a different drum. Another exemplary release from the team at 7a Records, Cosmic Partners: The McCabe’s Tapes brings to life one of his most compelling musical periods.
Cosmic Partners: The McCabe’s Tapes is available at:
CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada / Deep Discount (U.S.) / Keymail Records (U.K.)
Picture Disc LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada / Deep Discount (U.S.) / Keymail Records (U.K.)