For what they describe as their first studio album in 20 years, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, as "revived" in 2005, consist of founding member David Nelson (vocals, guitar); Buddy Cage, who took over from Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar after the first album in 1971; and three newbies, guitarist Michael Falzarano, bassist Ronnie Penque, and drummer Johnny Markowski. (Conspicuous by his absence is co-founder John Dawson, who is said to be retired.) Falzarano, who has made a career out of supporting musicians of the '60s San Francisco Sound (he was also a latter day member of Hot Tuna), produced the album. He gets two compositions, both of which he sings, and Penque and Markowski get one each, also displaying their lead vocal abilities. But the heart of the album -- seven songs out of 12 -- is the work of the new songwriting team of Nelson and Robert Hunter. The teaming itself is not new at all. Nelson and Hunter played together, along with Garcia, in folk and country bands in Palo Alto in the early '60s, prior to the formation of the Grateful Dead, for which Hunter served as primary lyricist. But as songwriters, this is a new association, and a happy one, as Hunter comes up with his typically aphoristic, imagistic, and vernacular words (particularly on the title song) and Nelson matches them with catchy, country-tinged melodies that the band plays in frisky country-rock roadhouse arrangements. This may be San Francisco music, but Bakersfield doesn't seem far away as the guitars go twangy and Cage plays down the weepy side of the pedal steel in favor of something more stinging. These New Riders jam a bit more than the original ensemble, and they also rock a bit more. Put it this way: the final track, "Rockin' with Nona" could segue into "Six Days on the Road" without missing a beat or, nearly, changing the chord pattern. It wouldn't be surprising if, in concert, it does.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann