Alternative country has its agreed-on pioneers — Nineties wheatfield-rock bands such as Uncle Tupelo and the Jayhawks. But a decade before there was a No Depression scene, there was the bold and bracing rural electricity of the Long Ryders, founded in Los Angeles in the early Eighties and associated with that city's Paisley Underground, even though the band's singer-guitarist, Sid Griffin, was Kentucky-born and a keen student of the iridescent-country strains of the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and the Flying Burrito Brothers. (Griffin's 1985 book, Gram Parsons – A Music Biography, was the first full-length study of the ex-Byrd and Burrito.) Griffin's current band, the Coal Porters, has been going for nearly two decades — he and the group are now based in London — and has evolved from a deeper mining of the country in the Ryders' acid-tinted drive to a pure acoustic bluegrass written and played with natural — in Griffin's case, native — flair on Durango (April 17 – April 30) (Prima Records). You can tell how live-in-the-studio these performances are: The traditional "Pretty Polly" opens with a false start, while Griffin and Carly Frey seem to be singing to each other across one mike in his surrender ballad "Lookin' for a Soft Place to Fall." (The Porters recorded the album last year, in the two weeks of the subtitle, at the Colorado studio of Ryders producer Ed Stasium.) And Griffin's belief that Bill Monroe and Neil Young are cut from the same North American granite is affirmed by the buoyant poignancy of the cover of Young's "Like a Hurricane," with Frey's sawing and skydiving fiddle where his scouring guitar distortion would be — and sounding right at home.
Fricke's Picks: A Long Ryder's Kentucky Bluegrass
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