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Rides Again

July 26th, 2008

I listened to a lot of music even back in high school. It was mostly 8-track tapes for me in those days. I had a home player, and when I was finally old enough to drive I had a player in my car. When I’d get in trouble at home the favorite punishment of my Mom and Dad was to take away my 8-track player. They’d lock it in the trunk of the car so I had no chance at getting to it. I guess it was clear how much I loved my music, even back then. I also had a little portable player that I could carry around (a boom box if you will, way before boom boxes became popular). I remember taking it to school a few times and getting in a lot of trouble. But even though I tried to keep up with popular music, there was, of course, just way too much to really do so. Especially when my finances were pretty limited. A lot of bands slipped through the cracks. With some I might have been able to get one album, but it didn’t go much further than that. And with many more I only knew of them from the radio and was maybe familiar with a hit or two here and there. As I get older, and as more and more albums have been remastered and reissued on CD, I’ve been making a concerted effort to go back and fill in the missing pieces for a lot of these bands: The Jefferson Airplane, The Guess Who, Sly & The Family Stone, The Steve Miller Band, The Grateful Dead, Santana and Led Zeppelin are some good examples. I remember I had an 8-track at one time of Thirds by James Gang. All I remember of the album was the hit “Walk Away.” I was familiar with at least one other of their hits, “Funk 49.” But that was about all I knew of James Gang for the next thirty plus years. I’d never bought any of their albums on CD. Until recently.

A couple of years ago I read something about the first James Gang album, Yer’ Album. Now, let me say at the start that I’ve never been much of Joe Walsh fan to begin with. I didn’t really connect to his seventies solo stuff, and I’m still not sure if it was really a good idea to bring him into the Eagles. (Side note: I saw Emmylou Harris and The Hot Band open a show for Joe Walsh in 1975 at a concert hall at UCLA in Los Angeles. What a disaster that was.) But, hey, I thought I’d give this early album a try so I picked it up and listened to it a few times. There was some good stuff on the album, but even with repeated listenings it didn’t move me a lot. The band was clearly young and still finding their way. The playing was good, but the songs were lacking. Still, there was undeniably something there, a “promise” of things to come as they say. So next I picked up their Greatest Hits album. I figured if nothing really did it for me on this album then I’d just move on to other things. I found enough on the Greatest Hits album that I liked that I decided to buy their second album, Rides Again.

A giant step forward from the first release. Now, this is a rock album I can sink my teeth into. Walsh’s guitar playing is excellent throughout, from the very first notes of “Funk #49” to the final acoustic picking on “Ashes The Rain And I.” The entire band sounds much more assured, much more confident. The time spent on the road promoting the first album certainly paid off here. And I dare say that Bill Szymczyk’s production has grown by leaps and bounds from the first album as well. But the real difference between this album and their first is the quality of the songwriting. On that front things have improved dramatically. Two of their biggest hits (and finest songs) are here: “Funk 49” with it’s infectious riff and “The Bomber” a medley of “Closet Queen,” “Bolero” and “Cast Your Fate To The Wind.” But the rest of the songs are almost equally as strong. I particularly like “Tend My Garden” which features a delicious hook that’s not even part of the main melody of the song. I love stuff like that. “There I Go Again” is a great little pop/rock song, as is “Thanks.” The band is also quite capable of displaying a softer, acoustic side on songs like “Ashes The Rain And I” (which features a 24 piece string section directed by Jack Nitzsche) and “Garden Gate.” All in all, there’s not a weak song on the album.

So I guess it’s on to Thirds next. If I see it on sale at Amazon I’ll pick it up. In the mean time I did get a copy of their live album, Live In Concert, as it was only $6.25 at Amazon, so I guess that one will actually be next in line. I just love the fact that all the CD reissue campaigns of the last twenty years give me another chance to go back and pick up on a lot of great music I missed the first time around. I really ever owned one Jefferson Airplane album, Surrealistic Pillow, but I’ve now gone back and added their entire early output to my collection. Same thing with The Grateful Dead, all I had before was American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead, but I’ve bit by bit been buying all their other early albums and listening to them for the first time. And then there’s Led Zeppelin who I never really even liked very much back in their heyday and now can’t seem to get enough of. It’s almost like going back in time and doing it all over again. And I like to think I’m older and wiser enough now, better able to appreciate a lot of stuff that passed me by when I was young and inexperienced.

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2 Responses

  1. Tim says:

    James Gang Rides Again – as you said, not a bad song on the record. Having grown up in NE Ohio I heard a lot of Joe Walsh stuff and always liked him. Your concert experience is similar to mine though, he wasn’t good at all the 4 or 5 times I saw him. As he said later, he was loaded for all of them. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Michael Stanley, but Walsh does some nice slide guitar work on his first 2 albums, the first one self titled, the second “Friends and Legends”.

  2. Hi Tim:
    I am familiar with Michael Stanely, but haven’t really listened much to his stuff. I think I have several albums on vinyl and maybe a CD reissue or two. I’ll see if I can find those first two albums you referred to and give them a listen. Thanks!

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