The Long Ryders were one of the very finest groups to come out of the L.A. Paisley Underground scene in the 1980s, but they were also the odd band out. While the other acts on the scene clearly drew their influences from psychedelia and garage rock, the Long Ryders swore first allegiance to folk rock (particularly the Byrds) and country-rock (lead Ryder Sid Griffin was a serious Gram Parsons fan who would later write a book on the Flying Burrito Brothers' founder), and though most of the other Paisley Underground bands seemed just a bit wary of the spotlight, the Long Ryders were clearly eager to break through to a larger audience. They did find one, but only in Europe and the UK., frustratingly never attracting more than a fervent cult in their homeland, where hipsters pilloried the band for appearing in a beer commercial. And as usual, the hipsters missed the point: the Long Ryders wrote and played smart, passionate, and unpretentious rock & roll with a C&W undertow and a ferocious backbeat; their recorded legacy ranks with the best American music of the decade and still sounds strong decades after the band called it quits in 1987. While Polygram released a superb two-disc Long Ryders anthology in 1998 (which is now out of print), for folks looking for an introduction to this great band's body of work, The Best of the Long Ryders is just about perfect. Leading off with the anthemic "Looking for Lewis & Clark" (a well-deserved hit single in England), this collection features 18 tracks that offer a healthy sampling from the Ryders three studio albums and their debut EP, a fiery tune from a 1987 live show, and a pair of non-LP single tracks, and while this hardly includes every memorable song the group recorded, their best-known tunes are here, and in 65 minutes, this disc captures the heart, soul, and mind of a band who managed to embrace rock's history while being ahead of their time (along with Rank & File, they were clear precursors of the alt-country explosion that would come a few years after their breakup; significantly, guitarist Stephen McCarthy would later become a member of the Jayhawks). Well packaged and featuring entertaining liner notes from bassist Tom Stevens and drummer Greg Sowders, The Best of the Long Ryders ultimately lives up to its title and is a concise but effective summation of what made them special, and why their music continues to resonate today.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming