Fortunate Son/Verve Forecast
The Honorable Jesse Jarnow
Album Reviews Editor
Hang on, boss – don’t hit the delete button just yet. I promise you – absolutely promise you – this isn’t one of those crazy rambling letters you told me to never send you again, okay? (See – I remembered; that ought to be worth something …) The fact of the matter is, I just wanted to save you from your own near-superhuman editorial prowess and proofreading ability.
See, I just know you’re going to read the review I’m writing on John Fogerty’s new album and immediately fetch up solid on the title: The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again. Well? Am I right or am I right? You’re already sitting there saying to yourself, “I could see ‘Rangers Ride Again’ or ‘ Ranger Rides Again’ – but ‘ Rangers Rides Again’ … no way. What is that bonehead Robbins thinking?” Did I nail it or what, Jesse? And I wouldn’t blame you for thinking it was a typo on my part, because I’ve been struggling with it, too. But let me tell you something: it really is the name of the album and I think I know why. That’s right, boss: I’VE FIGURED IT OUT. IT MAKES SENSE.
Let’s go back to 1973 for a moment: John Fogerty was feeling weirded out and drained after the breakup of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Lawyers were swirling around him like sharks circling a swimmer with a nosebleed, basically telling the man he couldn’t sing his own songs. Bad vibes abounded and Fogerty was just looking to play some music without getting sued. Salvation came in the form of The Blue Ridge Rangers, a sweet little album full of country and gospel songs – a product of Fogerty burrowing up in the studio and playing his heart out on a bunch of old tunes that were in his DNA. And here’s the key, Jesse: ol’ John was the Rangers. He played everything on the album, even the drums. (And you’re not going to find John Fogerty with very many drum credits anywhere else.) So there never was a real band called the Blue Ridge Rangers, you see. (I suppose maybe if John had got himself one of those loop machines like Keller Williams uses, he could have pulled it off, but that’s enough of that because this is the kind of thing you warned me about and I’m going to stop. Right now.)
Anyway, the Rangers were John … and John was the Rangers, okay? So, you see, even though this new album is credited to the “Rangers” (plural), we use a singular verb (“rides”) because we’re really only talking about John Fogerty.
Except we aren’t … and that’s where my theory sort of breaks down, boss.
I guess back in ’73, ol’ John said to himself that if he ever did another Rangers album, he was going to put a bunch of real players together. So he did. True to the theme of the original, Rides Again is another album of cover songs that John Fogerty loves to play, but this time he’s not the only one doing the playing. That’s where my theory goes to pieces, but don’t get too hung up on that – let me tell you more about the album.
Pickin’ freaks are going to rejoice over this one: not only does Rides Again feature little tasty bits of acoustic Fogerty, but big ol’ slabs of Greg Leisz, as well. (Leisz was brought to Earth by the same spaceship from the Planet of Strings that delivered Ben Keith [Neil Young] and Larry Campbell [Phil & Friends, Levon Helm]. With a resume that includes everybody from Bill Frisell and Joni Mitchell to the Smashing Pumpkins and Beck, Greg Leisz is one of those folks that either inspire other guitarists to try harder or to smash their axe up into small pieces and eat it.) Leisz is all over this thing with pedal and lap steel, plus dobro and mandolin when he has a few spare moments. Unbelievable.
But that’s not all, Jesse. Roots giants like Buddy Miller (guitar), Dennis Crouch (bass) and Jason Mowery (fiddle, mando) keep the music on the back porch in the sun with a vibe that’s all smiles and sleepy hound dogs. (Even when Miller rips off a feisty electric solo on “Haunted House,” it sounds like it’s being played through a little tube amp plugged into an extension cord run out the bathroom window – and it’s just right.) Fogerty stomps the boards loose with songs like Delaney and Bonnie’s “Never Ending Song of Love” and Buck Owen’s “I Don’t Care” while “Paradise” and “Back Home Again” will make you homesick before you pull out of the driveway.
Of course, being a living legend doesn’t hurt when you want to call in some reinforcements. Ol’ John thought it apropos to have Eagles Don Henley and Timothy B. Schmit in to sing a few lines on Ricky Nelson’s “Garden Party” (a tune about refusing to rehash old memories) and even hauled Bruce Springsteen in for soulful guest bellowing on “When Will I Be Loved.” Doesn’t matter what the lineup is on any given cut, though – there’s no ego stuff getting in the way. Every now and then somebody lets out a yelp or a holler just for the sheer joy of it and when it’s time to dig in and pick, the solo gets passed around pretty well.
All in all, Jesse, this is the sound of John Fogerty doing what he wants with a bunch of musicians that he likes. (Good for him.) And the fun is infectious. (Good for us.) The title thing? Well, what the hell … don’t think about it and it won’t bother you.
I just didn’t want you to blame me.
Your humble servant,
Brian Robbins’ new column is called “The Maine Line.”