CD Reviews for 03/18/05 (Doug Sahm, Rank & File) by Dan Ferguson

Searching for that one-stop shop with reissues collections galore spanning big band to psychedelic to ’70s rock to yesteryear country & western to blues to jazz to new wave? Then give the mail order outfit Collector’s Choice Music a look-see. Boasting some 250,000 titles in its catalogue, CCM concentrates on the vintage, the classic, and even some of the obscurities of 20th century popular music from a menagerie of domestic and import labels. What has made the outfit a little extra special in recent years has been the start-up of its own in-house Collector’s Choice Music label which on average has seen the release over 60 exclusive titles per year for the last four years or so. The label has begun 2005 with a bang with reissues and anthologies from acts as diverse as Andrew Gold, the late Terry Melcher, Modern Folk Quartet, Sonny Bono, surf band The Impacts, Jonathan Edwards, and Billy Swan, to name a few. Four different CCM label releases in this first wave of 2005, particularly Doug Sahm, and cowpunkers Rank & File, t, caught the Compact Capsules eye and ear and are in this week’s spotlight. Oh yeah, if you’re interested in more information about Collector’s Choice Music, give them a call at 1- 800-993-6344 or check the web site at

Doug Sahm
Groover’s Paradise
Collector’s Choice Music CCM-518

Since his death in 1999, the back-catalogue of Doug Sahm from his circa-1960s Sir Douglas Quintet days to his various solo maneuvers has slowly but steadily been reissued by a host of different labels, mostly oversees operations. (As a side note, that all changes as of this month with the release of the 5-CD collection The Complete Mercury Masters from Universal Music Group internet-only reissue arm Hip-O Select). One of the most highly sought-after Sahm releases has been the 1974 album Groover’s Paradise. The record was Sahm’s first album after getting dropped by Atlantic Records and other than a Japanese label which had a CD version of the album selling for something on the order of a very pricey $30 for the 10-song collection, the only option up to this time was to score a used vinyl copy of the original LP which frankly, was pretty difficult to come by. Thanks to the folks at Collector’s Choice Music, the CD reissue of Groover’s Paradise is finally available. For Doug Sahm fans, myself included, a most welcome reissue it is. The album was recorded after Sahm had relocated back to Texas after periods in Vancouver and San Francisco. A bit of an illegal substance related problem with the law had chased Sahm out of his native Texas. The album found the Tex-Mex hippie wonderkin Sir Doug teaming with the rhythm section of Creedence Clearwater Revival, namely Stu Cook on bass and Doug Clifford on drums, the latter of whom also produced the record. What you get are arguably some of the most pop sides Sahm ever laid down, but with that distinctive cosmic Gulf Coast, swamp-time blend. That unmistakable sound is clear right from the git-go on the title track, the all-things Texas title track which certainly reeks of Sahm longing for the Lone Star. As is characteristic of just about anything Sahm had his hands in, musically speaking, Groover’s Paradise is an appropriately all over the map outing with Sahm showing his fearlessness tackling everything from brown-eyed soul to full-bodied blues to rock (“For the Sake of Rock ‘N Roll”) to sweet Texas twang (“Beautiful Texas Sunshine”) to the sounds of the border (the polka “La Cachuata”). Keeping it all in a Texas frame of mind, the album even boasted artwork from noted Austin artist Kerry Awn. In addition to the original artwork from Awn, the reissue also features a remembrance from noted musicologist Colin Escott who contributes the liner notes. Whereas Sahm’s albums were oft-times disjointed affairs where the sum was greater than the parts such is not the case with the pop flavored Groover’s Paradise which is seamless from first track to last. For Sahm fans, it is nothing short of essential goods.

Rank & File
Collector’s Choice Music CCM-520

Rank and File
Long Gone Dead
Collector’s Choice Music CCM-521

Rank and File
Collector’s Choice Music CCM-522

The band Rank and File arose out of the ashes of the San Francisco punk scene in 1980 drawing its members from a couple of the Bay Area’s most notorious punk acts, the Dils and the Nuns. That was the initial incarnation of the band where the flavor of choice at the time was an odd hybrid of punk and reggae. It was short-lived. It was not long after relocating to New York City that two of the original members of the band, Chip Kinman and Alejandro Escovedo, finally hatched the idea that would become round two of Rank and File. Blame it in large part on a Merle Haggard show at New York City’s late and lamented honky tonk country nightspot, the Lone Star Cafe. As the story goes, with not enough money to pay the cover to get themselves in the door, Kinman and Escovedo resorted to listening from the streets to the country sounds being laid down that night by the masterful Haggard and his Strangers band. So inspired by both the simplicity of the music and the potency of Haggard’s vocals, the two were moved to begin their own country band. Looking for a name for themselves, it was decided to adopt the Rank and File tag once more. The band’s debut titled Sundown saw release on the renegade Slash label in 1982 and set the cow punk train a-rolling. With Escovedo and Chip Kinman wailing away on guitar, the band delivered punk country with a melodic twist thanks to songs like “Amanda Ruth”, “(Glad I’m) Not in Love”, the ferocious “Rank and File”, the Johnny Cash-like “I Went Walking”, and the haunting, cowpoke-styled title track. In a nutshell, influences were everywhere from the twangy guitar runs patterned after Don Rich of Buckaroos fame to Haggard (“I Don’t Go Out Much Anymore”) to Cash to the Stones (the riffy “The Conductor Wore Black”). The follow-up album released in 1984 called Long Gone Dead picked up right where Sundown left off and was as much of a keeper as the debut. Gone was Escovedo replaced by guitarist Jeff Ross. (As a side note, the lead guitar duties in between Escovedo’s departure and Ross’s arrival were handled by none other than guit-steel virtuoso Junior Brown.) Long Gone Dead displayed an even more pronounced country influence while also offering shades of everything from Buddy Holly (the original “Tell Her I Love Her”) to Waylon Jennings (“Last Night I Dreamed”) while at the same time finding a place for a jangly reworking of an old Dils number (“Sound Of the Rain”) which stands along side a Lefty Frizzell classic (“”I’m An Old Old Man”). At 9 and 10 tracks, respectively, on each reissue, here’s thinking these two releases would have made a dynamite “two-fer” collection.
What with trouble brewing on the label front with the Slash brass, it wasn’t until 1987 that the band’s self-titled third album saw the light of day. By that point, the Kinman’s had tired of the country thing. Whereas Rank and File found them returning to their rock roots, it’s not hard to hear that the magic was gone. The end result was a forgettable album which quite frankly, has not stood the test of time. Hey, two out of three isn’t b…