Sunday, February 10, 2008

Those Jangly Eighties, Vol 6: Rank And File & True Believers

[For the background on this series, see here.]

After a brief respite, the jangly eighties series is back. Today's episode features two former bands of legendary Austin guitarist Alejandro Escovedo.

Rank And File started with a bang in 1982, but soon fizzled. Their first record, Sundown, is worth hearing. In a review that will entice many regular readers of this blog, All Music Guide decscribed it as "a gem of tuneful, Byrds-ian pop, with a healthy dollop of Gram Parsons and Merle Haggard to boot." I don't know if I would go quite that far, but it's definitely an enjoyable listen. Try these two tracks:

Rank And File – Amanda Ruth.
Rank And File – Rank And File.
(buy album).

Not long after the release of Sundown, Escovedo quit Rank And File to form the True Believers with his brother Javier. The True Believers were a loud, three-guitar band. (I know how loud they were from first-hand experience.) They quickly became all the rage in Austin, and beyond, in the mid-1980s. Unfortunately, they couldn't capitalize on the buzz. Their first record, released on Rounder, failed to capture the raucous nature of their live show. It's now out of print.

The True Believers' "second" album, which was to be their major-label debut on EMI-America wasn't released at all. As explained in the All Music Guide:

"The second album was a far stronger representation of the True Believers than the debut, but shortly after it was completed, EMI-America's parent company decided to fold the label into another affiliated company, Manhattan Records, and much of EMI-America's roster was dropped, including the True Believers. The second album was pulled from the release schedule only two weeks before it was scheduled to ship, and the label's asking price for the master tapes was far more than the band could afford to pay."

The music business can be cruel. Years later, after the band broke up, the True Believers' debut and the lost second album were finally released together on a single CD called Hard Road, but that too is now out of print.

Here are one standout track from the debut and two highlights from the lost second album:

True Believers – The Rain Won't Help You When It's Over.
True Believers – She's Got.
True Believers – One Moment To Another.
(buy album).

Alejandro Esovedo's greatest critical success has come as a solo artist. A favorite of mine is this song from his 1992 solo debut album, Gravity:

Alejandro Escovedo – Five Hearts Breaking (buy album).

Just for fun, here is Whiskeytown's cover of The Rain Won't Help:

Whiskeytown – The Rain Won't Help You When It's Over (mp3). (This comes from the Those Weren't The Days bootleg, which you can find at Broadcaster House.)


Anonymous said...

Frankly, that Rank and File album is one of the best of all-time period. Of course, I already have it. Great post.

Paul said...

Anon, thanks for your comment. That's really high praise. I'm not sure if Sundown ranks up there with Highway 61 Revisted, Pet Sounds, or Kind of Blue, but it's one that any fan of alt-country or country-rock should have in their collection.

Marc said...

Rank & File were another great, underrated band. And although I may be in the minority, I think I like "Long Gone Dead" even better than Sundown. "Tell Her I Love Her" is a perfect fusion of power pop and what was later called alt-country.

What are the Kinmans up to these days anyway?


Paul said...

Catch up with the Kinmans here, here, here, and here.

Dan said...

Nice post, Paul. I actually played the True Believers on last week's show.

Have you seen this old clip from that great show that aired on MTV in the 80's: IRS' The Cutting Edge, hosted by Peter Zaremba of the Fleshtones. Man, that was a great show . . .
True Believers on the Cutting Edge

Paul said...


I saw that the True Believers were on your set list (I'm a subscriber to your web page). That's funny because I hardly ever hear anything about them anymore.

Thanks for the clip. I don't recall ever seeing it before. The next installment of my little 1980s series is going to be on the Fleshtones.


Anonymous said...

The true Believers are one of the greatest bands of all time, and it's a shame that they didn't enjoy a greater level of success.
I completely agree with you about the Believers' wall of sound - as good as they are on record, they were even better live.
Alejandro is a truly inspired artist - it seems that every project he involves himself with is guaranteed to be incredible.
Do you plan on covering any of Austin's other New Sincerity bands (Zeitgeist, Glass Eye, Doctor's Mob, etc)?
Thanks for stirring up some great memories with this series of posts - keep 'em coming!


Paul said...

Hey Ken, thanks for the great comment. All I own out of the bands you mentioned is the first Zeitgeist album (Translate Slowly) and their Atlantic City 12" LP. I was planning to include a track or two from them one in my final wrap up of the series (the odds and ends). Next jangly 80s post will be a big one about R.E.M., Let's Active, Pylon, Don Dixon, and Marti Jones.

Anonymous said...

would it be possible to post that Reivers/Zeitgeist version of "Atlantic City" I can't find it anywhere.

enjoy reading your stuff. thanks!
Wayne M.