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Better than ever

By The Farmers

Clarence Records: 2005

Buy it now

This review first appeared in Turbula in August 2005.

With their being awarded the 2005 Lifetime Achievement Award from the San Diego Music Awards, one supposes it's time to declare The Farmers officially old farts.

But before they totter off to live out their remaining days playing canasta and chasing nurses at the retirement home, the rest of us can only hope they have a few more albums like "Loaded" in the can.

Founding members of the legendary San Diego band The Beat Farmers, Buddy Blue, Jerry Raney and Rolle Love had played together in a couple of reunion shows in the years since head Farmer Country Dick Montana (aka Dan McClain) died on stage of a heart attack a decade ago. The reunions went so well, the boys had so much fun – with Montana's pal and occasional fill-in Joel Kmak on drums – that the four men decided to make the reunion permanent.

After a couple years of playing around the county and writing new material, the newly renamed The Farmers have issued their first album since Montana's passing – and it easily stands alongside the best work they did in the band's previous incarnations.

Tougher, harder edged than the Beat Farmers' original sound, "Loaded" gives fuller voice to Raney's hard rock inclinations while still making plenty of room for Blue's country, jazz and blues interests. With Kmak beating holy hell out of the traps and Love's thundering bass propelling everything along like a sonic air blower, the band's playing has never been better or more interesting.

Some of the songs here would have fit comfortably into the band's old playlist: Blue's "Look Into Your Eyes" is a rollicking bit of country-billy, while Raney's "Lost in My Car" is the sort of countrified hard rock the band has long specialized in.

But other tracks clearly carry the influences of where the band's two songwriters and lead vocalists have traveled in the years before and since they first played together two decades ago. "Hard Knot" is a tight bit of early '70s psychedelia from Raney's pen, while Blue's "Shadows of Glory" has a strong streak of R&B running through it, not too different from what he was doing with his band The Jacks in the late 1980s. "Impressed" is almost Dylanesque in its lyricism and melodic construction – perhaps Raney's revenge for being mistaken for Dylan by fans through the years. Then there's Raney's "Beans 'n' Weenies" – what is, to the best of your loyal correspondent's memory, the first instrumental from the Farmers and perhaps the best guitar work Raney has yet laid down in the studio.

Heck, there's even a Country Dick song here, even if he's not here to sing it: Blue's "Uncle Stinky" stands with other Farmers' novelties Montana sang, songs like "Lakeside Trailer Park," "California Kid," "Beat Generation" and "Big Rock Candy Mountain." If Country Dick were here, he'd be drunkenly wailing it in that deep baritone of his.

But the best, most rewarding track on this album is "Watching the River." No longer young, nor willing to pretend, Blue has instead written a mature rock and roll song, a song about growing older, about hopefully finding some wisdom and peace along the way. Wistful and sentimental, but never cloying or cheap, this is Blue's finest song – it is the best song The Farmers and/or Beat Farmers have yet put out.

It's not only a good enough song to stop you in your tracks in the here and now and demand your full attention, it's got that rare magic that makes you wonder what these guys have coming next.