Rank and File first came together in Austin, Texas, although Alejandro Escovedo had played in San Francisco’s Nuns and the Kinman brothers had been in San Diego’s Dils. The distance from those early punk outfits is more than geographical: Rank and File was formed to play delicately crafted cowboy rock. (Imagine if Marshall Crenshaw had been raised on a straight diet of Hank Williams.) David Kahne’s production of Sundown gives a squeaky clean sound to the tuneful and tasty pop numbers, which also benefit from pretty harmonies and confident playing. Effortlessly enjoyable.
But, alas, too good to last. Long Gone Dead retains only half the band — brothers Chip and Tony Kinman (the main creative force on Sundown, writing almost all the songs) — joined by such temps as Tom Petty drummer Stan Lynch. It’s hard to pin down the problem: Long Gone Dead has all the right ingredients but only a skimpy bit of Sundown‘s evocative magnificence. Perhaps it’s Jeff Eyrich’s production, which is fussier than Kahne’s and partially obscures the Kinmans’ melody-laden writing and rich vocals. Lacking the first LP’s lost and lonesome prairie feel, Long Gone Dead is appealing but disappointing.
Hanging onto Long Gone Dead guitarist Jeff Ross, the Kinmans added a permanent drummer and kept going, but didn’t release another album for three years. The loud run-of-the-mill rock production on Rank and File doesn’t totally obscure the melodies and Tony’s fine voice, but the band’s wandering personality all but evaporates in the guitar solos, bass riffs and overeager drumming.