Tuesday, March 09, 2010

THE BAND + GRATEFUL DEAD = WILDERNESS ROAD


If some critics used the above equation, it might have helped draw some attention to the group's debut album released on Columbia.

Chicago's Wilderness Road knew roots music about as well as the New York-Canadian group called The Band. Just as "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" seemed like it was actually written after the Civil War, one could easily believe that it was Jesse James who penned a few lines sung by Wilderness Road:

"They say it's only hard to kill the very first time you do,
but then after that, it don't take much nerve to do what you got to do."

Those lines are in the serious, if comically titled "Queasy Rider." Their debut was a concept album on the Old West and the life of a bounty hunter. And if they had a bit of tongue in cheek at times, it was about at the level of the Grateful Dead winking while singing about Casey Jones. The Road's lead vocalist was more of an adequate Jerry Garcia-type than someone with impressive pipes (like Levon Helm or Rick Danko).

Despite landing on a major label, the band was still in the wilderness as far as radio play and album sales, although as one might expect, they did get some solid critical reviews to ease the pain. The late, legendary Paul Nelson of Rolling Stone wrote:

"I've seen Wilderness Road at a small club in Chicago at least a dozen times - on one occasion, so great was my enthusiasm, I paid full air fare from New York City for another writer so he, too, could enjoy the magic - and each time, when the music was over, standing on the street in what the late Jack Kerouac would call the great American night, talking with Warren Leming and Nate Herman, the guitarists, and the Haban brothers, Andy and Tom, bass and drums, respectively, I've had the mythic feeling that, during the preceding three or four hours, there was no better music to be heard anywhere in the land."

Wilderness Road's Columbia album ranks right alongside the debut of "The Band," or "Workingman's Dead," or "Tumbleweed Connection" or any number of other rocking western chronicles. Remarkably, Wilderness Road did get a second chance. After going nowhere at Columbia, they turned up next at Warner Bros. This time, it was with something completely different...just as unsuccessful commercially, but perhaps even more of an enduring cult album than their debut. More about that in the future. But if you can't wait, you can also visit www.wildernessroad.net to learn more.

For now, sample "Bounty Man" from Wilderness Road. For a mere fistful of dollars, you can get the album at some dying record store, or brighten the day of some desperate eBay seller who isn't asking for a Paypal donation for breaking the law, but the chance to legally sell you and recycle some great vinyl.

BOUNTY MAN by WILDERNESS ROAD

1 comment:

wleming said...
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