“I thought I saw some diplomat hawking secret plans in the park.
I thought I saw my president walking through Harlem late after dark.”
Those first lines of this record’s opener - Looking For Lewis And Clark - suggest you’re in for a politically charged wild ride. Turns out it’s a well-written, tuneful, fun one at that. I love this record for so many reasons and one of them is that The Long Ryders use this record to prove the supposed rock ‘n’ roll dust bowl of the 1980s is a myth.
This record is an appropriately arrogant blend of country rock love of Gram Parsons, plugged into some Byrdsian jangle guitar, a strong pop sensibility and the spirit of Woody Guthrie. And it all happened in 1985.
Sid Griffin (g), Stephen McCarthy (g), Greg Sowders (d), and Tom Stevens (b) came together again in 1985 to create this long-player filled with addictive Americana (no wonder it was so popular in England!). It’s their second record together with this line-up. The first being 1984’s Native Sons (which may have even more going for it). The same line-up minus bassist Tom Stevens put out a great EP in 1983 called 10-5-60.
State Of Our Union is packed to the gills with some predictable stuff like weaving, bashing, jangly guitars. But, it’s just as heavy into harmonica, autoharp, banjo, and lap steel. Oh, and drums that never miss a beat and keyboards that don’t stink.
Funny thing is, State Of Our Union seems as well suited to the have/have not times of today as it did in the mid 80s. Or, in the 1930s for that matter. I’m not saying the record is timeless but man is it close. There’s no doubt the band didn’t like trickle down economics or Ronald Reagan’s view of America. But to say the record is singularly focused on politics underestimates this slab of fine wax. It’s as easy to pump your fist in the air in support of the small man as it is to get lost in the scenery of riding the rails and filling up your coupe with gas from a glass topper. It’s simple, straightforward American idealism and it’s awesome.
Go to your local record shop and purchase this LP today. Don’t do it and regret it forever. And, I’m no fan of hyperbole.
For weirdos only: State Of Our Union is produced by well-respected man and drummer/vocalist Will Birch of England’s The Records. Those fine pop songsmiths really deserve a second go around. Mr. Birch’s involvement likely explains the pop sheen that glistens so beautifully in the mid-80s southern California sun. One more thing. I owe my love of the Long Ryders to a guy who turned me on to this record in 1986. That guy? Mike “Country Punk” O’Russa. Thanks C.P.