New Riders of the Purple Sage


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Harking back to the era of singers who did not write their own songs, most record contracts continued to call for two albums a year in the 1970s, a provision most recording artists seemed to ignore. But Brujo was the New Riders of the Purple Sage's sixth album in just over three years. (That includes the band's previous release, Home, Home on the Road, a live LP from earlier in 1974, half of which consisted of previously unrecorded tunes.) Maybe it's not surprising, then, that a group which, on its debut, New Riders of the Purple Sage, in 1971, seemed like a songwriting vehicle for singer/guitarist John Dawson, has had to scrounge around for songs to fill up its albums. One source of material was singer/bassist Dave Torbert, who leaned in a rock & roll direction. But on Brujo he's been replaced by veteran Skip Battin, who has been kicking around the music business since the days of Skip & Flip and most recently was in the Byrds. In fact, with Dawson contributing only the nostalgic leadoff track, "Old Man Noll," the country-rocker "Instant Armadillo Blues," and the macabre story-song "Parson Brown," Battin, with his songwriting partner Kim Fowley, is the dominant voice and pen on the second half of this LP. Four of the last six songs are in his L.A. country-pop novelty style, so that the album can seem less like a New Riders record than a follow-up to Battin's solo album Skip. Happily, before that the band has found some appropriate outside material, including another of its discoveries from the country charts of the 1960s, Don Gibson's 1968 hit "Ashes of Love," as well as a good take on Bob Dylan's "You Angel You" from his comeback album Planet Waves of earlier in 1974. Also, lead guitarist David Nelson has collaborated successfully with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter on "Crooked Judge." Still, the addition of Battin skews what used to be a bunch of San Francisco hippie cowboys into much more of a Southern California-style group.