Dewey Bunnell admits that, by the end of the '90s, he feared America was becoming a touring act only. He and bandmate Gerry Beckley had released two albums earlier that decade, Hourglass and Human Nature. But both came and went with little notice, largely because they were on independent record labels with limited resources for promotion and distribution.
"I really did, sort of in my own mind, resign myself to the fact that the recording career was all but finished," says Bunnell.
But Bunnell's thinking proved premature. America returned in 2007 with a two-CD set, Here & Now, which features one disc of new studio material and a second disc of hits originally performed live for an XM satellite radio concert.
Part of what's interesting about the studio recordings for Here & Now is they involve an unlikely collaboration with co-producers Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne and James Iha, the former guitarist with Smashing Pumpkins two artists associated with modern rock, not the kind of relaxed country pop for which America is known.
The beginnings of the collaboration can be traced to Beckley, who along with Bunnell had become Fountains of Wayne fans. Beckley struck up an e-mail correspondence with Schlesinger.
"It turned out he was a fan of the band," says Beckley. "As that kind of developed, we were swapping songs and sending things back and forth, and he said, "Why don't you come to New York and we'll try a couple of things?' So it all developed very organically."
Despite the involvement of Schlesinger and Iha, the new songs on Here & Now fit very much with America's signature country-tinged pop sound.
Beckley and Bunnell along with long-departed third member Dan Peek began developing that sound in the early 1970s. Using acoustic instruments as their foundation, they released a self-titled debut in 1971. The debut became a hit a year later, when a newly written song, "A Horse With No Name," was released as a single and added to the record.
The hot streak continued with the second album, Homecoming, and its signature hit, "Ventura Highway," but a third album, the musically ambitious Hat Trick, slumped somewhat on the charts. America rebounded in 1974 with Holiday, which featured the hits "Tin Man" and "Lonely People," followed by the 1975 release, Hearts, which included "Sister Golden Hair."
Peek left in 1977, and after Hearts, America's commercial fortunes faded. Except for a Top 10 hit, "You Could Do Magic," in 1982, the group's subsequent work has not been a presence on radio.
But Here & Now may once again raise America's profile. And this summer, America continues what continues to be a busy tour schedule.
Beckley said fans can expect a hit-laden set, plus a mix of new songs and older album tracks.
"We, of course, do the hits," Beckley says. "We basically have a whole evening of hits, which is our good fortune."