Beat Farmers

Tales of the New West

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The Beat Farmers arrived a little late to pick up on the momentum of early cowpunk acts like Jason and the Scorchers, and were too early to be tied in with the alt-country scene that followed in the wake of Uncle Tupelo. But the Beat Farmers were too busy having a good time and playing great music to worry much about career timing, and their 1985 debut, Tales of the New West, is a casual masterpiece, a great little record that delivers a fistful of killer tunes and a few laughs with plenty of sweat and not much fuss. Before recording their debut, the Beat Farmers honed their chops playing countless bar gigs around San Diego, and the live work shows -- this is a ferociously tight band, with Jerry Raney and Buddy Blue trading off some superb guitar byplay, while bassist Rolle Dexter and drummer Country Dick Montana hold down the beat with muscle and a near flawless sense of rhythm. The band was capable of coming up with great songs on occasion, and they knew where to turn when their muse was busy elsewhere -- "Bigger Stones" and "Where Do They Go" are impassioned and even poignant without getting sappy, "Lost Weekend" and "California Kid" get laughs but never undercut the music (the latter also gave Country Dick his first chance to show off his outsize persona in public), and the covers of Bruce Springsteen's "Reason to Believe." Lou Reed's "There She Goes Again," and John Stewart's "Never Goin' Back" put a sharp and individual spin on familiar material. Steve Berlin (of Los Lobos) and Mark Linett produced Tales of the New West on a shoestring budget, and the small bankroll may have helped -- the performance sound live and wiry, without a lot of polish getting in the way, and the straightforward treatment gets their mixture of snark and sincere on tape in all its glory. And once you've heard Country Dick sing "Happy Boy," be assured you'll never forget it. A left-field triumph, and the best and most satisfying album this fine band would ever release.

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