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Wither ranchero

November 20, 2009

As you’ve probably heard by now, the boys are going in the studio early next year to record the follow-up to Blame It On Gravity, and we the fans couldn’t be more thrilled.

Or could we?

Any new material from the Old 97’s is cause for celebration. After all, we’re about to finish a decade that only saw three albums of new material released by the band as a whole. I’m as pleased as anyone that they’ve chosen to bring Salim Nourallah back to produce, and I’m sure the finished product will offer all the quality sonic thrills we love them for. Sign me up for the pre-order right now.

But anytime the band gets together in the studio, one specific footnote from their long and storied history comes to mind. A missed opportunity, if you will, of massive proportions.

I’m speaking, of course, of the long-lost and seemingly forgotten Ranchero Brothers album.

A brief recap for the new folks on the bandwagon: back in the day, Murry and Rhett sometimes performed as an acoustic duo called the Ranchero Brothers. They did lots of Old 97’s “covers” and may unique songs as well. Just an acoustic rhythm guitar, acoustic bass, and the beautiful harmonies of Rhett and Murry.

As this side project grew in popularity, they decided to record an album, and did so in Dallas in 2001 or so. A handful of tracks from this recording have circulated on bootlegs, but most of them are stuck in a crashed hard drive (or were the last I heard of it). Murry wasn’t thrilled with the sound of the recordings anyway, and wanted to re-record it in his home studio of vintage sound equipment. However, somewhere around the time The Instigator came out, the project became a much lower priority. Many songs that were recorded for the Ranchero album were re-recorded with the full band for 2004’s Drag It Up — “Valium Waltz,” “Blinding Sheets of Rain,” “In The Satellite Rides a Star” and what would have surely been the centerpiece of the album, “Won’t Be Home No More.”

And that’s where it stands today. A few more of the Ranchero songs have come out in various forms. The whole band recorded a cover of Robbie Fulks’ “I’d Be Lonesome” for a compilation. “My Two Feet” took the chorus from “Goin’ on Down the Mountain.” Murry put “Lost at Sea” on his solo album.

Yet I find myself unable to let it go. I know in my heart that a complete Ranchero Brothers album would be a timeless work of art that would bring joy to millions. Or at least thousands. Thousands of people with really good taste in music.

So please allow me to address a few of the arguments that might be proposed against the idea.

• We wouldn’t want a Ranchero Brothers album to compete with a new Old 97’s album. Well, here’s the thing. With a fan base as rabid and loyal as this one, it’s just not an issue. As I stated above, we’re wrapping up a decade with just three albums of new Old 97’s material. I feel certain most of us would have happily paid for triple that.

• What about the record label and distribution and blah blah.
I’m certainly no expert on record label contracts and whatnot, but come on. This is 2009. Labels are practically obsolete. There’s this thing called the internet. You’re on it right now. And people have found numerous ways to share an distribute music on it. Some of them have even made money doing so. Throw a couple of tracks up as free teaser downloads, offer lossless digital versions for purchase, and create some nifty collector’s packages with CDs and t-shirts and vinyl and all that. Hello, profit! Hello, happy fans! Win-win.

• Too many of the songs have already been released in other forms. Simple answer to this one… SO WHAT. We’re fans. We just love the music. We download live shows and trade bootlegs. I personally own around 15 solo acoustic Rhett shows, and all of these versions of the songs in no way diminish my love for the studio versions. It’s just another way to enjoy the beauty of what’s been created. Demos, outtakes, alternate versions — fans LOVE these things, and they’ve been too hard to find for too long. Hell, Dwight Yoakam put out a solo acoustic album that was pretty much a greatest hits set, and it was amazing. And not once did I stop and think HEY! That song was on another album! RIPOFF!

• What about Ken and Phillip? Great idea! Do a couple of tracks with them on there, too! Phillip would have fun on stripped down kit, and who wouldn’t want to hear what Ken could do on an acoustic guitar? That would be awesome. Did anyone get Jeff Tweedy’s Sunken Treasure solo acoustic stuff? There were several tracks where a couple of band members sat in, too. And it worked.

• There’s no time. Well, you’re going in the studio early next year… maybe you could fit it in then. Just a thought.

My fear is that Rhett and Murry see the Ranchero Brothers album as an idea whose time has passed. Lord knows I could be wrong. But if that’s the case, the only thing that will change their minds is an outcry from the fans. They do so try to keep us happy. So please, if you’d like to see this idea become a reality, say so in the comments section. FLOOD the comments section with encouragement and we’ll see to it that the boys know about it. In return, I’ll throw you a little bone right here. Enjoy it, and dream for moment about how magic an entire album like that could be.

Gracias.

-jefe

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