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Magic remembered – and the promise of more

Tales of the New West - Numbered Limited Edition
Tales of the New West – Numbered Limited Edition
By the Beat Farmers

Rhino Records: 2004

Buy it now

This review first appeared in the Autumn 2004 issue of Turbula.

The Beat Farmers' role as San Diego's best-loved band of the 1980s and '90s has been documented fully and well and frequently.

Still, when Rhino reissues a special, limited-edition collection of their first LP, EP and demo for their second LP, it's worth revisiting one of the best bands to come out of the '80s roots movement.

The Rhino Handmade version of "Tales of the New West" covers just about everything the first incarnation of the Farmers – the original lineup with Buddy Blue – ever laid down in the studio: their complete 1985 debut, "Tales of the New West," their 1986 British EP "Glad N' Greasy," and some demos from their 1986 sophomore album "Van Go" (which was issued by Curb Records). Also included here are some tracks from the band's self-released "Live at the Spring Valley Inn, 1983," which was taken from a live demo made just months after the band was formed.

What this new collection from Rhino shows is that whatever else, a huge swath of the band's live shows for their rest of their time together (until founder/drummer/ringleader Country Dick Montana died onstage in 1995) was laid down during the first years documented here.

Of course, much of the material found here was drawn from the band's notoriously raucous live shows at the Spring Valley Inn and, later, Bodie's – two dive bars of ill repute that were perfectly suited to Country Dick's beer-soaked table dances. (And until you've had a 6-foot-tall man with long, straggly hair and cowboy boots give you a table dance while waving a full pitcher of beer around, can you really say you've lived?)

After "Van Go" was recorded, Blue left the band and was replaced by Joey Harris. No knock on Harris, a talented singer and songwriter and by every account one of the nicest people you'll ever meet, but Blue's loss removed a crucial bit of creative tension from the band. Blue's country and blues inclinations were no longer there; the band wasn't really a "roots" band anymore, but just another bar band. And when the Farmers moved uptown to The Bacchanal, a fairly fancy bar with brass fittings and such, where folks actually sat in booths for the show – well, it just wasn't the same.

And so for many early fans of the Beat Farmers, a big chunk of the excitement of the Farmers was gone after 1986 – making for a remarkable three-year run before the magic ran out.

But a bunch of that magic is right here, on this disc, from the band's earliest days up through Blue's departure, with memory-stuffed liner notes from Neil Weiss.

And in a special coda, the last song is a new demo, cut by the reunited band which plays gigs around SoCal as either Beat Farmers AD (After Dick), or more commonly the Flying Putos. It's Blue back with co-founding members Jerry Raney and Rolle Dexter, along with Montana pal Joel Kmak on drums. A new composition from the pen of Blue, "Watching the River," recaptures that early blend of country, blues and rock 'n' roll that originally made the band so exciting for so very many of us.