Psychedelic Country Soul

The Long Ryders

Omnivore, 2019

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Some bands are just ahead of their time; the Long Ryders were alt-country/Americana before it was even a thing. Before Uncle Tupelo or Wilco or the Jayhawks, the Long Ryders assembled in 1982 Los Angeles, a quartet with three principal vocalists that revisited the harmony-rich country-rock sound of Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds, and the Flying Burrito Brothers while infusing their music with a heavier edge informed by roots-minded punks like The Clash. From 1982 to 1987 the Long Ryders burned bright, then out, breaking up after three albums that won significant acclaim but scored only modest sales.

Aside from a few brief runs of live shows, the band hadn’t formally reunited in more than 30 years when they received an offer from former roadie and friend of the band Larry Chatman to record in Dr. Dre’s studio. Armed with 11 new songs and one dynamite cover, their classic lineup of Stephen McCarthy (vocals, guitar), Tom Stevens (vocals, bass), Greg Sowders (drums) and Sid Griffin (vocals, guitar) reconvened back in LA 32 years later in search of the old magic.

Psychedelic Country Soul floors it out of the gate with McCarthy’s “Greenville,” a driving, anthemic number about getting out of town that’s propelled by hard-strummed acoustic rhythm guitars and assertive jangle from the electrics. Griffin adds mandolin (and guest Kerenza Peacock adds violin) to Stevens’ “Let It Fly,” rather traditionalist country-folk at its core, but decorated with chiming electrics and rich harmonies from old LA pals Debbi and Vicki Peterson of the Bangles. Griffin’s “Molly Somebody” pushes the tempo again on a rather haunting number whose highlight is a breakdown to just the call-and-answer vocals at the end. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The middle section of the album finds the three singers trading songs that range from solid, upbeat rockers (“All Aboard,” “What The Eagle Sees,” “The Sound”) to good-natured mid-tempo tunes (“Gonna Make It Real”), and at least one genuine barroom weeper of a ballad (“If You Want To Hear Me Cry”). In the midst of it all, McCarthy’s “California State Line” goes straight-up country with guest Dave Pearlman’s woozy slide in the foreground.

The fourth quarter is a strong one, opening with a tasty, deeply affectionate cover of one of Tom Petty’s more overlooked songs, “Walls” from the She’s The One soundtrack. The Ryders are clearly serious Petty fans who relish the opportunity to pay tribute to one of their heroes, adding a touch more country to the feel while faithfully recreating the song’s dense, thrumming core. The outro jam is among this album’s highlights, with the jangle on high and producer Ed Stasium’s exotic keyboards lurking deep in the mix under a vocal chorus that includes the Peterson sisters once again, giving the moment a bit of a Fleetwood Mac feel.

Stevens’ acoustic ballad “Bells Of August” explores the human cost of war, a reminder that the Ryders never shied away from addressing political themes. The closing title track is big and bold and all kinds of fun, spacey country-rock carrying echoes of “Eight Miles High” long before its extended outro evolves into a sort of ecstatic sunny-dreamy psychedelic jam.

Thirty-two years after breaking up, the Long Ryders have delivered a reminder of why they were so well-regarded by so many who followed in their musical footsteps, offering rich harmonies topping a sound that embraces country, rock, blues, and soul while bending and twisting the forms into new shapes. Whatever time has cost these four—for all the heart they show here, their voices are not as strong as they once were—it has not dimmed their spirit one iota. Whether it proves to be a late-career coda or the start of something new, Psychedelic Country Soul offers fresh proof of the Long Ryders’ vital place in the history of Americana.

Rating: B+

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