Born in the South but assembled in California, the Long Ryders (who broke up around the end of 1987) color mild ’60s revivalism with country stylings (steel guitar, autoharp, mandolin, etc.) on the five-song 10–5–60 EP, produced by Earle Mankey. Pleasant but too easygoing to be earthshaking, Kentucky native Sid Griffin (vocals, assorted stringed instruments) and his three bandmates took care of that business on Native Sons, a stirring dose of memorable and unpretentious country-rock that incorporates Highway 61 Dylan, paisley pop, Kingston Trio balladry and wild rock’n’roll. A guest vocal appearance by Gene Clark legitimizes the Long Ryders’ spiritual update of the Byrds’ pioneering hybrid. (Griffin made a specific literary statement on behalf of his roots in 1985, when he edited/wrote a biography of Gram Parsons.)
State of Our Union is a big disappointment, an occasionally corny collection of weak melodies, inane lyrics and misguided arrangements. The Ryders seem to have been fooled by their own image. “Looking for Lewis and Clark” is sung in a pathetically bad monotone; other tunes that attempt to align the band with American populist sentiment are only slightly better. Produced in England by Will Birch, it sounds good in spots, but heavyhandedness is clearly no asset.
The Long Ryders found solid footing again with the less selfconscious Two Fisted Tales, an enjoyable album nicely produced in a variety of appealing styles by Ed Stasium. The writing is back up to snuff and the natural-sounding presentation makes the group’s ethical culture far more palatable. One-song studio visits each by the Bangles and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos are unobtrusive but unneeded — these boys can handle the job nicely by themselves.
Metallic B.O., a spirited cassette-only hodgepodge of live covers, interview snippets and general fooling around, was assembled posthumously by the Long Ryders’ fan club (and subsequently issued in abbreviated CD form by a British label). With energetically sloppy renditions of tunes by everybody from Dylan to Public Image Ltd. (not to mention a dandy version of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”), it’s a fine epitaph, outlining the Ryders’ historical pedigree and distilling the punky edge that rarely made it onto their studio recordings.
On his early solo EP, bassist Tom Stevens (joined by two sidemen) plays guitar and sings half a dozen original melodic pop songs that wouldn’t fit the band’s format but are quite appealing on their own.