Although James Gang is mainly remembered as the band that starred Joe Walsh, who eventually spawned a commercially successful solo career and boasted membership in the Eagles, they were actually popular on the live underground circuit. A number of their tunes additionally received liberal rotation on FM radio stations across the land.
Initially released in 1970, Rides Again marked the Cleveland, Ohio band’s second album, and remains the crown jewel in the catalog. At the time the disc was recorded, James Gang also included bassist Dale Peters and drummer Jim Fox.
Taking a lead from the power trios of the day, the band cranked up the volume and screeched with the best of them, but as Rides Again tangibly testifies, they occasionally visited other musical dimensions. However, there’s no argument James Gang especially shined when engaging in the heavy stuff.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Joe Walsh returned with a rare solo album in 2012, called 'Analog Man,' but he had lost none of what made him special in the interim -- offering plenty of raw emotion and guitar gumption.]
One example of such mind-numbing noodling (and I honestly mean that in a nice way) is “Bomber,” in which Joe makes his guitar sound like a screaming jet plane. The whole band shreds with a fierce intensity throughout the track. Smoking drum fills join brutal axe-grinding dynamics, resulting in a rumbling reservoir of manic energy and excitement.
True to its title, “Funk #49” gallops to a rather funky groove, while “Woman” stomps and clomps to a wild and weighty wallop of crunchy rhythms and ferocious frequencies. Joe’s nasally vocals, which sort of resemble Roger McGuinn on steroids, are tailored perfectly for James Gang’s material. His singing is raw, edgy and so oddly unique that they stand in a category all alone.
Forays in country music manifest on Rides Again, most notably on the sweetly melodic “There I Go Again,” which features Rusty Young of Poco on pedal steel guitar. The legendary Jack Nitzsche handles string arrangements on “Ashes The Rain And I” that effortlessly morphs into a beautiful classical suite and clearly influenced some of the fare the Eagles later flirted with.
But in the end, Rides Again will always be lauded for its overamplified adventures. Gorging on clusters of chunky chords coiling with fire and fury, James Gang really knew how to get it on. Not your average hard rock album, Rides Again proves tough and tender can exist on the same page in peace.
Here’s a record where a band did not sacrifice steel-eyed performances or integrity to create art that not only traveled beyond their comfort zone, but their audience’s expectations.
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