The Sir Douglas Quintet

The Return of Doug Saldaña

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Since the Sir Douglas Quintet's records were so consistently satisfying and worked such a similar territory -- a loose-limbed, freewheeling eclecticism that encompassed rock & roll, blues, country, and R&B in unequal measures at varying times -- it can be hard drawing distinctions between their records. Certainly, there was a leap in quality and consistency when they moved to Smash, particularly after their tremendous Mendocino record, but each followed similar territory, with subtle shifts in either tone, subject, or music. Even so, their final Smash record, 1971's The Return of Doug Saldaña, is a special record that leapfrogs over the competition and arguably stands as their best record -- the best representation of their musical aesthetic, their richest collection of music, their best collection of songs. Part of its appeal is that it stretches beyond the signature Tex-Mex sound they laid down with Mendocino; there is no song that captures that wild, wide-open sound, complete with the simple chord changes and careening organ. No, here the Sir Douglas Quintet wind up emphasizing their musical roots -- whether it's the roadhouse blues jam of "Papa Ain't Salty" or the '50s rock & roll pastiche of "She's Huggin' You, But She's Lookin' at Me," a cinematic pastiche that's the American equivalent of David Bowie's similarly romanticized "Drive-In Saturday" -- while settling into the post-hippie hangover of the early '70s, as the dreams of the late '60s die. Witness how the raving opener, "Preach What You Live, Live What You Live," finds its counterpart in the sweetly resigned "Stoned Faces Don't Lie," and how it covers both spectrums of emotion, as Doug Sahm and his group embrace ideals while simultaneously finding them dwindling away. This is the subtext in an album that finds a surplus of great Texas music, from the breezy "Me and My Destiny" and a cover of "Wasted Days, Wasted Nights" to the folky narrative of "The Railpak Dun Done in the Del Monte" and the loose blues of "The Gypsy." No other record by the Sir Douglas Quintet has such a consistently great set of songs or captures their ambition and skill as well as this, which is why it is arguably not only their finest record, but also one of the great lost records of its era, holding its own with the best of such similarly minded groups as the Band. A fantastic record that's just waiting to be discovered. [The 2002 reissue on Acadia/Evangeline contains two bonus tracks, the typically wonderful "Michoacan" and "Westside Blues Again."]

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