New Riders of The Purple Sage
THANKSGIVING IN NEW YORK CITY
Back To The Future For Some Superbly Timeless Psychedelic Country Rock.
One of the great joys of this ‘reviewing malarkey’ is discovering new music every week; and that doesn’t just mean lonely singer-songwriters or bar bands releasing their self-financed debuts; but also finally discovering acts like this whose name would cropped up in ‘Import ads’ in the back of NME and Melody Maker every week of my teenage years.
Before last Sunday I’d genuinely never heard a note from New Riders of The Purple Sage in my entire life; so it was with barely bated excitement that I placed it in the cd player.
Recorded at the Academy of Music, NYC on Thanksgiving 1972 this live recording (3 x LP’S or 2 x CD’s) has lain dormant ever since (although I wouldn’t be surprised if bootlegs have been available).
I had absolutely no idea what to expect, so was delighted when opening track Leaving On Her Mind was a melodiously loose Country Rocker in the style of the Burritos; plenty of pedal-steel (which was still a mythical instrument in Co. Durham at that time) and actual harmonies ….. wow ……. I only came to this type of music in the 80’s so can’t imagine how exciting it must have been here at the birth of a musical genre.
As was their won’t way back when, bands were prone to having eclectic set lists, mixing their own songs with some from their peers and adding in a few oldies just for the Hell of it; and New Riders’ were no different; which gives us an odd but fun version of Hello Mary Lou which is a bit of a doozy actually; and later there’s a neat Americana drenched interpretation of Honky Tonk Women which has aged better than it may have deserved; and the night closes with an 11 minute plus jam based around Willie and the Hand Jive; which I remember being a staple of many local bands to me.
In between Kitty Wells’ She’s No Angel is played absolutely straight as a dye and Long Black Veil is as good a version as I think I’ve ever heard; with John Dawson’s voice being perfect for this desperately maudlin song, and I just love this version of the Humble Pie Classic I Don’t Need No Doctor too.
For me the biggest surprises of the pleasant variety, have come from their own songs; especially Henry and Last Lonely Eagle which are both songs that would have made various playlists and compilations I’ve made over the years; and All I Ever Wanted stands up there with the finest songs from this generation; IMHO.
Baring in mind the band’s ‘history’ another huge surprise for me is how they’ve managed to cram in 22 songs into a set that lasts just over an hour and a half. I own several Live double albums from this period that only have 7 or 8 self-indulgent tracks on them; but here every track is almost perfectly constructed to get as much out of the few minutes allotted to them …… these guys are professionals through and through.
With the benefit of hindsight ‘Groupie’ was ‘of it’s time’, but forgive me as it’s a crackling little Rock Song that I rather like.
There are a whole bunch of songs that I can choose from as my Favourite Song here; Truck Drivin’ Man is a belter that I know I’m going to revisit on some playlist or other next Summer; while Portland Woman and Louisiana Lady show what a sharp and insightful songwriter John Dawson is/was; and the melody’s both have a timeless element to them as well.
But one particular song has outshone the others for me; Contract (by bass player Dave Torbert) who also sings it; is the type of 70’s Country Rock that is now the template for what we now call Alt. Country and sounds as thrilling today as it must have been to those kids nearly half a century ago; therefore I decree that Contract is the RMHQ Favourite Song on this fabulous album.
With so much great music in this style, swilling around these days I don’t know if many young fans will be attracted here; but if like me you’ve not heard New Riders of The Purple Sage ……. this just may be the perfect starting point; if only to hear where all your current favourite bands got their influences from.
Released November 23rd 2019