REVIEW: Legends of Rodeo: A Thousand Friday Nights
Legends of Rodeo: A Thousand Friday Nights [Bieler Bros, 2002]
Three words? Insistent, diluted Americana.
Everything about Legends of Rodeo, from their name to the general approach of the press information ("a collection of timeless songs that conjure up ... long hot summers, sun-soaked open roads, teenage restlessness") screams "we are American rock!". The band yearns to be the Heartbreakers, the E Street Band, to tap into the sandy, fiery energy at the root of the Americana songwriting tradition.
Sadly, they fail. As much as LOR may posture and pose, as much as they may rip out rock songs with just a touch of twang, there's little here to separate the group from the huge packaged bastion of "modern rock" - in fact, they sound a lot like Days of the New. While this perhaps bodes well for their commercial careers, it's not exactly a recipe for artistic glory. Over the course of A Thousand Friday Nigths, there's not one turn of phrase that resounds as insightful, as electrifyingly true. This is songwriting-by-numbers, not streetwise poetry. "Baby I would do anything to be by your side / instead of all alone / millions of miles from home" ("Baltimore Blues"). Though lead singer John Ralston's whiny yelling sounds a lot like a hard-rock Bob Dylan, this isn't a good thing. Those that love Dylan's voice are few, and everyone will admit that it's the songwriting that redeems him. Legends of Rodeo isn't so lucky; poor songwriting that wants to be taken seriously, but can't be understood in the first place, and upon study doesn't measure up. The band plays with a consistent, determined energy, but this consistency becomes problematic: there's a lack of dynamics, of rhythmic and sonic variation. Tune after tune carries the same guitar crashes, drum patter, insistent vocals. "Long Road" introduces a harmonica that fades under guitar crunches, and A Thousand Friday Nights often tries to hint at the blues, there's never any soul here, let alone a blue sadness. The harmonica comes back on "The Devil Started Rock and Roll" - but again it's swallowed in a mess of roots guitars. What might be a moving ballad is drenched in jangly acoustic guitars and undermined by a sappy chorus.
For those of you who are excited by American alt-rock kanoodling, Legends of Rodeo might be worth a listen; it's by no means the record the band thinks it is, however, and it doesn't hold a candle to the Greg Macpherson disc reviewed elsewhere this week.
Maybe they're good live?