A version of this review appears in Friday’s Weekend Look of The Oklahoman. The Red Dirt Rangers also are on the lineup for Sunday’s “Red Dirt Rising” tornado relief benefit show at the Arbuckle Ballroom in Davis. For more information, click here.
Red Dirt Rangers “Lone Chimney” (Ranger Records)
Over the past quarter century, the Red Dirt Rangers have thrived in the rich, fertile soil of the Oklahoma music scene.
Although I’ve heard them play a number of times over the past few years, it wasn’t readily apparent just how much the venerable Payne County band has grown in its songwriting, musicianship and sonic identity until I heard “Lone Chimney,” the group’s first album in more than five years.
Released in honor of their 25th anniversary as a band, the Rangers — singer/mandolin player John Cooper, singer/guitarist Brad Piccolo and singer/lead guitarist Ben Han — spent two and half years working with their neighbor, Grammy-nominated songwriter/musician/producer Steve Ripley, on the 13-track collection.
The extra time and toil paid off, since “Lone Chimney” channels the band’s eclectic sonic interests — from classic country, rock and pop to funk and bluegrass — but never fails to sound distinctly and authentically like the Rangers their fans know and love.
The band and Ripley co-produced the album, which they recorded analog style to two-inch tape for maximum warmth. Grammy nominees John Fullbright, Lloyd Maines and Fats Kaplin played multiple instruments, talented pals like fiddler Randy Crouch, bassist Don Morris and singer Monica Taylor also contributed to “Lone Chimney.”
Named for the rural northeast Payne County community the band members call home, their eighth album to date opens with the collection’s lone cover, Wayland Holyfield’s “Where the Arkansas River Leaves Oklahoma,” a waltz that Piccolo jiggered into a jumpy piano ditty. On the wise and rambling rocker “Heaven and Hell,” which Cooper co-wrote with red dirt star Stoney LaRue, they get into the groove of the Tulsa Sound but add a few percussive oddities in the form of wine glasses, shakers and even an old kitchen sink.
From there, the album really opens up sonically: Piccolo goes old-school country on the heartbroken ode “Without My Baby” and takes a jaunty honky-tonk romp on “Main Street USA (Rt. 66).” Cooper adds a Beatlesque flair to his twangy ballad “Oh Angel” and brings a Buddy Holly vibe to “Blindsided by Love.” Han partners with Morris and the late songsmith Bob Childers to pen the easygoing “Take Life as It Comes,” a kind of red dirt answer to Nashville’s slickly produced “island country” trend.
“Lone Chimney” is the first album the Rangers have released since Childers died in April 2008, and the four songs they penned with the “godfather of red dirt music” — the bluegrassy “I Dreamed That I Had Wings,” the two-stepper “Honky Tonk History” and the funky closer “Work It Out” are the others — rank among the best tracks on one of the best Oklahoma albums of the year.
Due to last week’s tornadoes, the Rangers’ “Lone Chimney” album release show at the Blue Door has been rescheduled for June 22. For more information, go to www.bluedoorokc.com.