As youve 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 couldnt be more thrilled.
Or could we?
Any new material from the Old 97s is cause for celebration. After all, were about to finish a decade that only saw three albums of new material released by the band as a whole. Im as pleased as anyone that theyve chosen to bring Salim Nourallah back to produce, and Im 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.
Im 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 97s 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 wasnt 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 2004s 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, “Wont Be Home No More.”
And thats 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 “Id 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 wouldnt want a Ranchero Brothers album to compete with a new Old 97s album. Well, heres the thing. With a fan base as rabid and loyal as this one, its just not an issue. As I stated above, were wrapping up a decade with just three albums of new Old 97s material. I feel certain most of us would have happily paid for triple that.
What about the record label and distribution and blah blah. Im certainly no expert on record label contracts and whatnot, but come on. This is 2009. Labels are practically obsolete. Theres this thing called the internet. Youre 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 collectors 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. Were 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. Its just another way to enjoy the beauty of whats been created. Demos, outtakes, alternate versions fans LOVE these things, and theyve 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 wouldnt want to hear what Ken could do on an acoustic guitar? That would be awesome. Did anyone get Jeff Tweedys Sunken Treasure solo acoustic stuff? There were several tracks where a couple of band members sat in, too. And it worked.
Theres no time. Well, youre 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 thats 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 youd like to see this idea become a reality, say so in the comments section. FLOOD the comments section with encouragement and well see to it that the boys know about it. In return, Ill throw you a little bone right here. Enjoy it, and dream for moment about how magic an entire album like that could be.