Between 1985 and 1989, Kimmie Rhodes lead a series of hard-working, hard-touring country ensembles and aggregations through a broad range of country & western styles, all the while developing her songwriting muse. She also recorded three albums, and Jackalopes, Moons & Angels collects 12 tracks from those three releases. As such, it documents three distinct eras of Kimmie Rhodes songcraft and acts as an audible record of sorts, charting the rapid growth of her compositional skills. It also captures some pretty hot musicians. The three songs included from the first record (Kimmie Rhodes and the Jackalope Brothers) can best be described as juvenilia, yes, but they are nevertheless rollicking and infectious recordings. "Contrabandistas" is a swaying Tex-Mex border song and "Sweetheart You're a Lot Like Texas" is a Lone Star barnyard polka-cum-square-dance number, while the swinging rock & roll beat of "I'm His Little Chevrolet" is pure Sun Studios with great electric picking and the band playing the hell out of the song as Rhodes howls like a honky-tonk Emmylou Harris. The songs from the second album, Man in the Moon, reflect their dancehall genesis in the sing-song basslines and quick country pacing, from the title track's frenetic swing workout to the almost bluegrass "Daddy's Song." On the other hand, "1000 Magicians" is a heartbroken ballad, and "It'll Do" perhaps marks the first true flowering of Rhodes mature songwriting. She peppers the song with wonderful wordplay snapshots of a nowhere Texas town and its inhabitants, living broke but not broken with a nostalgic sweetness. Some of the earliest songs have an unexpected, amusing sense of humor, partly grounded in the moonlit gazebo lilt of pre-rock pop. It masks a slight tentativeness in the writing, but the songs are nonetheless accomplished and romantic. The third album, Angels Get the Blues, was recorded live, no overdubs, by Rhodes' Austin band at the legendary Sun Studios, with Joe Ely lending a hand and voice. The songs collected here from that album are gorgeous, fully mature country-folk tunes -- including "I Just Drove By" later recorded by both Wynonna Judd and Willie Nelson -- full of delicate lyrical insight. It proves an aural spreading of the wings as well, even moving into moody piano jazz on "Bad Times for Me" and straight soul-descending electric blues on "Trying for My Heart." The collection may not be entirely representative of Rhodes' sound or indicative of the full breadth of her abilities (that would occur on her fourth and fifth albums), but since all three of those original albums remain out of print, it is not only the most accessible but also the only way to hear her earliest efforts. It beautifully captures the budding seeds of an artist that would become one of the most acclaimed country-folk songwriters of the 1990s and beyond.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Stanton Swihart