Rank and File

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Sundown Review

by Mark Deming

The first wave of cowpunk launched by Jason & the Scorchers had begun to fade out and the alt-country scene which would follow the release of Uncle Tupelo's first album was eight years away when Rank and File offered their own distinct mixture of punk rock and classic country with their superb debut album, Sundown. Led by Tony Kinman and Chip Kinman, brothers who previously fronted the leftist punk band the Dils, and featuring Alejandro Escovedo (ex-Nuns and pre-True Believers) on guitar, Rank and File had more than enough rock credibility to satisfy anyone, but on this album, their punk side makes its presence clear mostly in their lean, stripped-down arrangements and their lyrical stance, which embraces working-class rage, bohemian fashion victims, and the plight of illegal aliens along with the more traditional country concerns of love and heartache. There isn't a note wasted in Chip and Alejandro's flinty but resonant guitar work, and Tony and Slim Evans are an equally efficient and rock-solid rhythm section (the dramatic dynamics and the use of empty space in the arrangements also suggests these guys had been listening to more than a little dub reggae, especially on "Coyote" and the title cut). But amid the no-frills performances and David Kahne's unobtrusive production lurk songs in the classic country manner, as the spunky tribute to "Amanda Ruth," the Lefty Frizzell homage of the title track, and the revved-up train song "The Conductor Wore Black" have more to do with the classic Bakersfield C&W sound than anything that floated out of Nashville in the post-Urban Cowboy era. If Rank and File were a few years early for the alt-country scene, they certainly anticipated its musical and social values on Sundown -- and made a great little record in the process.

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