While it’s not a new, New Riders of the Purple Sage LP, Ronnie Penque’s Family Business is the closest fans are going to get.
With all his former NRPS bandmates – guitarists David Nelson and Michael Falzarano, pedal steeler Buddy Cage and drummer Johnny Markowski – along for the ride, bassist Penque takes control on his second solo LP, writing or co-writing nine of the 10 tracks and making his rhythm instrument sound like a lead player throughout as friends like Mookie Siegel and former RatDog guitarist Mark Karan chip in.
Singing like the love child of Tom Petty and Roger McGuinn, Penque plays zydeco – with a huge assist from Seigal’s squeezebox – on “Crawford,” channels early Lynyrd Skynyrd on “Midnight Medicine” and recalls American Beauty-era Grateful Dead (the band that spawned NRPS) on “Shave that Rock.” Meanwhile, playing with Cage, Falzarano and other session musicians, Penque comes closest to the New Riders’ space-country sound on a cover of Merle Haggard’s “The Fugitive.”
The final iteration of NRPS plays as a unit on the humorous paean to tour-rats, “Wookie Kids,” and the album closing “That’s All,” a title that seems appropriate given age and health issues have precluded the New Riders form recording or touring since 2016.
And Family Business is likely their swansong.
“There is a very good chance that these will be the last new recordings of Buddy Cage that the world will hear,” Penque recently told the Asbury Park Press, referring to the five cuts that feature Jerry Garcia’s New Riders’ replacement.
“So it is bittersweet and it really feels great to just hear those tracks of Buddy on this record.”
If this is Cage’s last hurrah, Penque did his friend and bandmate right. Because although it may be derivative, Family Business is serious business, with a bunch of fine playing and not a lick of filler.
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