Sunday, November 18, 2012

Rank and File - Sundown

California brothers Chip and Tony Kinman formed the alternative country, also known as cowpunk, band Rank and File in the early 1980’s. They utilized a vocal harmony style of singing upper and lower octaves that gave the group a unique sound. Chip played guitar, harmonica and sang. Tony played bass and sang. Rounding out the group was Slim Evans on drums and Alejandro Escovedo (the uncle of Sheila E.) on guitar and vocals.

This month we mark the thirtieth anniversary of Sundown, the group’s debut album.

Side one opens with “Amanda Ruth”, the first single from the album. The song, an ode to a quirky young lady, has a guitar riff that brings to mind a little bit of “La Bamba” for me. This one was a popular track on the local college radio station I listened to senior year of high school. It would show up years later on a Rhino Records new-wave set I got in the 90’s.

“(Glad I’m) Not In Love”, an up-beat track, outlines the many things that his girl that makes him happy to not be fully committed to her.

The 80‘s had a nice trend of bands with songs named after the group or vice versa. “Rank and File” continues that tradition. This track starts out with a Dixie guitar riff before moving into a little bit of a Peter Gunn kind of theme. The slower bridge near the later half is an unexpected surprise.

“The Conductor Wore Black” paints the picture of a funeral train but does so in an up-tempo manner to contrast the subject matter. The guitar riffs are choppy but in a very methodic manner. Evans really kicks in the beats near the end on this one, like a train moving into its full traveling speed.

Side two starts with the title track “Sundown”. This country song plods along at a relaxed pace for the verse before moving to a boogie for the chorus.

“I Went Walking” makes a commentary on the Los Angeles punk and new-wave scene at the time, implying that there were many aspects to the alternative sound. Rank and File certainly was doing its own thing and doing it quite effectively.

“Lucky Day” was the B-side to the first single. The irony of the song title is a good one as this one deals with an unexpected romantic break-up.

“I Don’t Go Out Much Anymore” is the story of newly self-appointed social recluse.

“Coyote” closes the album on a quickening tempo note. It continues on the theme of abandonment that threads throughout the entire album.

I found Sundown to be a strong album and one I enjoyed a lot. In a number of ways, it reminded me of Wilco, a group I got into listening to in the mid-90’s. I was already a fan of the opening track of this album but that’s just the tip of the iceberg from Rank and File. As soon as I finished working on this review, I went off to download the album. It will make a nice edition to my music library.

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