Sid Griffin and The Long Ryders’ rugged, rowdy revival
Artist: The Long Ryders
Recording: Psychedelic Country Soul
Label: Omnivore Recordings Rating: ★★★★ (4/5 stars)
It can be argued — and decidedly so — that Americana didn’t simply originate in the new millennium as a hip encapsulation of a sprawling genre, one that defies precise description in favor of its broad umbrella.
Indeed, the term “Americana” can trace its origins back to Stephen Foster’s idyllic odes to the moss-draped environs of the old South and the working men and women who harvested its cash crops under an unmerciful sun. More recently of course, it’s come to embrace an entire genre, pioneered by Elvis, Johnny Cash, Muddy Waters, Buddy Holly, Ray Charles and a host of others who paved the way for America’s Heartland to intersect with the crossroads of the middle class mainstream.
That said, it took bands like the Byrds, the Band, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco, the Eagles, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in particular to create that solid foundation where country music could find compatibility with rock and roll. Likewise, it was the bands that followed in their wake like Wilco, Son Volt and Jason Isbel and the 400 Unit who carried that trajectory forward.
And let’s not forget The Long Ryders, the group whose devotion to the ‘60s switchover of rock to roots provided both impetus and inspiration. Ever since their founding some three decades before, the group’s guiding light, Sid Griffin, has continued to express his unbounded devotion to his predecessors, both on record and in print, offering his homage to Dylan and the Band, and Byrds Gene Clark and Chris Hillman, all with unabashed dedication.
While the Long Ryders were frequently lumped in with the so-called Paisley Pop movement of the early ‘80s, their adherence to a vintage formula was never in doubt. Indeed, Psychedelic Country Soul does seem an apt description of their intents, given the times and the trappings that shaped their initial efforts. Perhaps now more than before, the opportunity for appreciation has reached its full fruition, providing opportunity for The Long Ryders to return after their long layoff as conquering heroes and certainly the dedicated disciples that they were then and apparently still are now.
From a practical perspective, that’s a clearly credible proposition. The band’s presence still lingers large, as evidenced by the recent reissues of their earlier efforts. Yet now, with the original cast reassembled — Griffin (vocals, guitar, harp, mandolin), Stephen McCarthy (vocals, guitars, pedal steel, mellotron, etc.), Tom Stevens (vocals, bass, guitar) and Greg Sowders (drums, percussion) — the group is again intact and making music that’s not so much a comeback as a reaffirmed matter of passion and purpose.
As it stands, Griffin was quick to describe Psychedelic Country Soul as “the album we were always trying to make. Each flavor which made the band unique is there, be it C&W, rock ’n’ roll, troubadour folk music, raw R&B or out-there psychedelia.” With powerhouse producer Ed Stasium behind the boards and in the studio supplying auxiliary instrumentation, the Ryders clearly prove his point, from the dogged drive and delivery of “Greenville” and “Molly Somebody,” to the more reflective tones of “Let It Fly” and “If You Want To See Me Cry” (“If you want to see me cry/Just say her name”). The country rock pastiche is evident everywhere, an exquisite example of form and fashion blended together in an equal and unequivocal manner.
That said, a robust cover of Tom Petty’s telling “Walls” and cameo appearances by a pair of Bangles do offer a time stamp that binds the band to their initial origins. Which is fine of course. The Long Ryders have long since proven that they are indeed a band for the ages. Long may they reign. Consider this one of their best.