// Album Recommendation

Dan Fogelberg

Nether Lands

(1977)

“One road was simple
Acceptance of life
The other road offered sweet peace
When I made my decision
My vision became my release."

Nether Lands by Dan Fogelberg

In 1972, at the age of 21, Folk/Country-Rock artist Dan Fogelberg released his critically acclaimed (if commercially unsuccessful) debut album Home Free. One of its compositions, the opening track To The Morning, an evocative piano piece augmented by harpsichord and a string-laden arrangement, was an early indication of the enormous potential of Fogelberg’s songwriting and his great love of Classical Music (he was exposed to it at an early age by his parents). With a dreamy, ethereal and soothing quality quite similar to that of the album Nether Lands, released 5 years later, in retrospect To The Morning almost seems to predict Fogelberg’s musical future. As Fogelberg continued to grow as a songwriter and musician, so did his confidence and his ambitions, which were to result in bursts of creative energy and displays of boundless talent. Having released his second album in 1974, the equally critically acclaimed (and commercially successful) Souvenirs, and his third and latest album Captured Angel in 1975, Fogelberg was set to begin work on his fourth album. He bought a house (from Chris Hillman of The Byrds) that was situated on top of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, but as he sat there perched at his grand piano, with a breathtaking view of the snow-covered scenery, he found himself struggling with a serious bout of writer’s block for months, a disorienting experience visualized by the sweepingly dramatic and classically inclined orchestration and the poetic lyrics of Nether Lands’ breathtakingly grand title track (“High on this mountain / The clouds down below / I'm feeling so strong and alive / From this rocky perch / I'll continue to search…”).

Dan Fogelberg: “I would just sit up every night and try to write and could get nothing done. And I was going crazy. And literally out of that craziness, that borderline insanity, Loose Ends happened all in one night -- boom, you know? And it was such a cathartic night. After that, within two weeks, I had written a whole album. Once I broke through the writer’s block, I was in ecstasy. Because it was like nothing I’d ever dreamed I could do.” Closer inspection reveals that the lyrics to Nether Lands work on more than one level, as they also depict a quest for purpose and inner peace, trying to find one’s way and one’s place in the world (“Once in a vision I came on some woods / And stood at a fork in the road / My choices were clear / Yet I froze with the fear / Of not knowing which way to go”). All strings, swelling orchestration, twinkling piano keys, and Fogelberg’s emotive falsetto, Nether Lands is nothing short of magical. Loose Ends, the song that broke the curse of the writer’s block, is another such track that works on two different levels. On one level it’s about dealing with the fortune that goes with fame, the sense of guilt (“Surrounding myself with possessions / I surely have more than I need / I don’t know if this is justice hard earned / Or simply a matter of greed / A matter of greed”), and the loneliness that goes with being on top of the world (“Climbing a mountain / In darkness / Stranded alone on the ledge / Every attempt that I make to hold on / Pushes me nearer the edge”). On another level, it’s about the loss of innocence and desperately wanting to travel back in time, to one’s childhood or early youth, and slowly realizing that those innocent times are gone forever (And the chords struck at birth / Grow more distant / Yet, we strike them again and again / And we plead and we pray / For a glimmer of day / As the night folds its wings and descends / Exposing the loose ends”). Not only did Fogelberg sing lead and harmony, he also played most of the instruments, ranging from acoustic 12-string guitars, electric rhythm guitars, electric lead guitars, and slide guitar to piano and pipe organ. The lush instrumentation and intricate arrangement of the track create a densely layered, melancholic sound, which is quietly dramatic and gripping.

Of the most atmospheric and engaging songs here, three in particular stand out, all of them acoustic guitar ballads. Dancing Shoes is haunting and hypnotizing and has long since become a fan favorite. It’s one of Fogelberg’s most spellbinding, engaging and enduring compositions. Dan Fogelberg: “A very sexual song about my first wife, a ballerina. It seems like new love and break-ups inspire a lot of great songs.” Scarecrow’s Dream is mysterious and captivating and unlike any other folk ballad I’ve ever heard. Dan fogelberg: “Always loved this song. Never understood it, but always loved it.” Equally wonderful is Bridges Burned, a wistful rumination on the elusive nature of love and its consequences (“You found me / In a sea of confusion / Drifting with the tide / Living on a love that had long since died”). It was never released as a single, but it would’ve been the most obvious choice, if only the chorus hadn’t arrived as late as 1:50 minutes into the song.

Even as a teenager in the 1960s Fogelberg had an eclectic taste. Like so many others he was a huge Beatles fan, but he also listened to the Brazilian music of Sergio Mendes & Brazil 66, and Antonio Carlos Jobim. The latter’s influence is heard in the Bossa Nova-tinged Folk-Pop of the charming Give Me Some Time, which features delicate, tasteful flute-playing by Tim Weisberg with whom he’d record all of his next album, 1978’s Twin Sons Of Different Mothers. Fogelberg’s classical influence reappears on the subtly sorrowful, achingly beautiful piano piece Sketches, which finds him reminiscing about an ex-girlfriend (“Late in the summer / When the cottonwood dies / The fields are on fire / With green bottle flies / And I’m still seeing reflections / Of me in your eyes”), and a more innocent time in his life (“Standing still, laughing, breathing steam / Gazing down into a freezing stream / I saw the face of a child / I saw the face of a child”). Sketches is ample evidence of what a vastly and unfairly underrated songwriter Fogelberg remains. As on Nether Lands’ title track, he uses the influence of Classical Music to great, dramatic effect on the album’s last song False Faces – a symphonic though never overwrought Orchestral Rock piece that ends the album on a high note.

Fogelberg’s love of the natural world and the causes he supported have been well-documented in interviews and in his lyrics. Many of his albums contain references to nature, none more so than Nether Lands (and The Wild Places), whose evocative, poetic lyrics (both literal and metaphorical) contain images of mountains, woods, lakes, frozen streams, the sea, winter and summer, night and day, the beating of wings, etc. (even the back cover pictures sunlight fractured among the trees). The front cover of the album (as seen above) shows Fogelberg’s face etched in contemplation, perfectly capturing the mood of the music you’re about to listen to. With no commercial aspirations, the introspective and soul-searching Nether Lands doesn’t feature any hits (Love Gone By was released as a single; Nether Lands as a promotional single only). Even though each song easily stands on its own, the album is a unified musical suite that is best appreciated if listened to in its entirety. Ironically, it became Fogelberg’s biggest seller up to that point in time, reaching no. 13 on Billboard’s Album Chart and establishing him as a major artist – a force to be reckoned with.

Fogelberg rightfully remained very proud of this beautifully written, skillfully crafted album. Dan Fogelberg: “When I made Nether Lands, I felt that I had finally made a grown up record. That I wasn’t a kid anymore, and that I was finding my own voice as a writer.” With Nether Lands, Fogelberg proved that his artistic vision possessed an unusual depth for such a young songwriter. Despite merging a broad range of styles (Soft Rock, Pop, Country-Rock, Folk, and Classical Music) and using a wide array of musical instruments (various electric & acoustic guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, strings, harpsichord, French accordion, even sleigh bells), he successfully crafted an impressively cohesive work of art in the process. Nether Lands is poignant and emotionally charged – all heart, soul and beauty – a lush, intricate and densely layered masterpiece, which connects with the listener on many levels. Nether Lands has enriched my life beyond words. It’s one of the greatest artistic statements of the 1970s, a memorable and deeply moving album that still resonates with me to this day.

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