RJ Fox never released an album and was virtually unknown outside Marin County, which is precisely the reason why the two-CD, 39-track collection Retrospective Dreams is such a magical document. This two-guys-and-a-girl acoustic trio transplanted itself to San Francisco all the way from Detroit in the heady days of 1971, managed to finagle their way into the studio where David Crosby was recording his masterpiece, If I Could Only Remember My Name, and proceeded to stun Crosby and his producer Stephen Barncard with progressive folk songs of endless depth (both lyrical and musical) and brilliant three-part modal harmonies.
They recorded an album for Atlantic that was shelved at the last minute due to some shady record-industry dealings, as well as a wealth of other recordings, experimental sessions, and solo demos over the next several years, none of which ever saw the light of day until reissued in this 1993 set. The first eight songs of disc one offer the legendary, unreleased 1971 Atlantic LP in its entirety, and the legend is dearly deserved. Offering four cuts apiece from Richard Hovey and Joel Siegel, the album is consistently thrilling, bathed in the same hazy beauty as all of Barncard's productions from the period. Songs like "Cheesecake," the stunningly labyrinthine "Lament #1," the loping country-gospel of "Amanda," and "Night of Rides" have such intricate, flawless harmonies that even CSN would have trouble hitting them, as well as wonderfully dense acoustic arrangements and progressive chord shifts. The rest of the first disc and the entirety of disc two consist of recordings made by various permutations of the group between 1971 and 1978, including eight selections from the 1973 album by Oasis, which essentially was Siegel and Sherry Fox's spin-off unit. Of these, Fox's chilling Joni Mitchell-like performances on "Parallel Trains," her own piano ode "Nobody's Home," and "Music Man" are nothing less than astounding (as is her singing throughout), but many of the other 30-odd songs are near-equals to the ones on the Atlantic record, some just a step or two below. Everything is remixed and remastered by Barncard himself, and the package is rounded out with a nice booklet of notes and photographs. Still, it was released in only a limited edition of 1,000 CDs, so may be difficult to come by. But if you've ever wondered why so many music lovers remain devoted to the era, it is because of an out-of-the-blue discovery like the stockpile of songs on Retrospective Dreams, an unearthing almost as astounding as that of Merrell Fankhauser's Mu recordings. AMG.