Review: Roger Nichols returns with a Small Circle of Friends

It’s 1967.  You record a debut album for an upstart record label.  It doesn’t sell in fantastic numbers when first issued, but it gains a very strong following.  The logical thing to do is to record a follow-up.  This is exactly what Roger Nichols has done–he has recorded a follow-up to his excellent and highly-regarded Roger Nichols & The Small Circle of Friends album on A&M, called Full Circle

…a full 40 years later!

Roger Nichols’ catalog as a recording artist is woefully small, especially given how there is such a loyal following of fans for his original A&M album, long considered a prime example of sunny, California pop.  As a composer, though, Nichols’ compositions have appeared on many other artists’ albums.  Teamed up with lyricist Paul Williams, Nichols was half of the creative duo that created classics such as “Let Me Be The One,” “I Kept On Loving You,” and a song that nearly everyone knows: “We’ve Only Just Begun.”  He has written other memorable tunes with other lyricists.  After a lengthy hiatus spanning decades, the “Circle” is back!

Full Circle, recorded in 2007 but re-released in 2008, reassembles the the original trio of Nichols, Murray McLeod and Melinda McLeod Patterson (Murray’s sister).  The minute your laser hits the first track, “Talk It Over In The Morning,” and the trio of vocalists breezes its way out of your speakers, it’s like an instant wave of familiarity.  Those silky smooth harmonies haven’t lost a thing in 40 years!  It’s like those middle 38 years never happened.

The only thing missing is the tan 1960s A&M label, spinning on black vinyl!

The album is a pleasant surprise.  The five bonus tracks aren’t really essential, as they are demo versions of the main body of twelve tracks that comprise the newer recordings.  But those twelve tracks are gold.  The shuffling leadoff track, “Talk It Over In The Morning,” was recorded by Anne Murray many years ago and may be familiar to many music fans. The next track should have you break into an instant smile: “The Drifter”, a bonus track on the Complete Small Circle of Friends CD and long-lost A&M single, is given an update, and aside from some modern production hints, it’s like 1967 all over again.

Two pleasant surprises are songs from the Carpenters songbook, both co-written with Paul Williams.  “Let Me Be The One” is given a silky three-part vocal treatment here, as is the album staple “I Kept On Loving You”.  The Nichols-penned “Out In The Country,” a Three Dog Night track, is given the SCOF treatment as well.  Chuck Findley and the Toto rhythm section lend their talents to the instrumental track “The Winner”.

And on that note I, too, declare this album a winner.  Those great harmonies are back, many of the tracks are familiar, and the others are hidden gems as well.  Highly recommended if you like sunny “California pop” and, especially, if you want to hear the long-awaited follow-up to this group’s first album.  Enjoy!