In Austin, TX, a town where great roots rock bands grow like crabgrass in suburbia, the True Believers gained a reputation as something very special right off the bat, and their blazing live shows earned them a rabid following long before they cut their first record. Unfortunately, they also became the classic example of a fine band brought down by their own record company; their first album was cut on the cheap for an independent label (and often sounds like it), and after a major label bought out their contract and paid for a significantly more polished and powerful second album, the band was dropped following a corporate reorganization, and a potential breakthrough album was left collecting dust in the vault. Hard Road finally gives this great band their due, bringing together the True Believers' self-titled debut and their previously unreleased follow-up on one compact disc. While the self-titled first album's low-budget production (especially the out-of-balance snare sound) makes it sound more like a demo than a polished final product, the performances are game, the triple-guitar lineup kicks pretty hard, and the songs are great, especially "The Rain Won't Help You When It's Over," "Tell Her," and a rollicking cover of the Velvet Underground's "Train Round the Bend." The unreleased album's production is a bit more boomy and bombastic than it needs to be, but it certainly gets the band's wall of guitars on tape with a lot more authority and force (especially Jon Dee Graham's slide work), and while the new rhythm section imposed on the band by producer Jeff Glixman doesn't sound all that different than the band's original timekeepers, the True Believers do sound a lot tighter and strike with greater impact on these songs, whether they're rockers like "She's Got" or introspective mid-tempo tunes such as "One Moment to Another." And while these two albums were where Alejandro Escovedo first began to gain his reputation as one of America's great songwriters, his brother, Javier Escovedo, and Jon Dee Graham make it clear he wasn't the only fine songwriter in the group, and their tightly interlocked guitars are a wonder to behold. The True Believers deserved better than the hand they were dealt, and one listen to Hard Road provides all the proof you need.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming