May 7th, 2007
One can make an argument that country rock started in Los Angeles when Gram Parson became a hired gun for The Byrds back in 1968. One can also argue that another Los Angeles band, The Eagles, popularized country rock like no one else. And now in the 21st century another band from L.A., Rancho Deluxe, is treading down this familiar path. However, this should be no surprise considering that two-thirds of the group brothers Jesse Jay and Graham Harris are the sons of Greg Harris who was in Parson’s Flying Burrito Brothers.
The band consists of the brothers Harris and Mark Adams. Graham holds down the bottom on bass while Jesse Jay adds guitars, mandolin, and backing vocals. Adams plays acoustic guitar as well but it’s his rich baritone which takes center stage. For their self-titled debut, they got help from an all-star line-up including papa Greg Harris on banjo, JayDee Maness, formerly of the The Byrds, on pedal steel, and stalwart session drummer Don Heffington.
With enough talent for two bands, the group lays down the twang thick and heavy beginning with “Rock Bottom”. If there’s such a thing as a country rock frat boy anthem, this is it. If the solid beat wasn’t enough, then the sing-a-long chorus seals the deal. Pedal steel and fiddle color the mid-tempo “Fall From Grace” while dobro races along in the instrumental shuffle of “On the Fence”, easily the best song here. All of the songs are originals excepting a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”. The band updates the song, from Dylan’s 1969 foray into country, Nashville Skyline, with aplomb and turns it into a chunky piece of twangy rock.
Ostensibly in the alt-country camp, Rancho Deluxe is really just a modern country band in as much as modern country music has appropriated rock music. The drums are up front in the mix and those rim shots in “Lonesome Home Security” are just too familiar. The album as a whole sounds too slick as if all the rough edges have been polished away. While Rancho Deluxe isn’t off the country music assembly line in Nashville, it sure sounds like it.