Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Banana And The Bunch - Mid-Mountain Ranch (1972 us, splendid rural roots 'n' roll blues psych rock, 2015 remaster)

So steadfast was their faith in Jesse Colin Young, Warner Brothers ended up giving the frontman and his Youngblood cohorts the keys to a subsidiary label as the 1960s faded out. Raccoon Records would be best known for releasing Michael Hurley’s second and third LPs—a significant measure that can distort the label’s legacy when having to compare the remainder of the catalog to those now-legendary slabs. At the time, however, Snock fit in just fine with the unknowns that made up Raccoon’s non-Youngblood roster: a coterie of friends, acquaintances, and partners of the band running the show. Better yet, the label offered an opportunity for the non-Jesse members of the band an opportunity to bring their ideas to life. At the tail end of the label’s run guitar-, keys-, and anything else he would pick up-man Lowell Levinger gave it a go, leaving us with the overlooked and splendid Mid-Mountain Ranch. 

We’re offered a greasy affair overall. The tunes are rollicking, delightfully out of key at times, and general front porch pickin’ fare. Appropriately, the record begins with Chuck Berry’s “Back in the USA” and about half of the tunes on the record come from the same vein of classic Americana. Bill Monroe’s “Sittin’ Alone in the Moonlight” (also covered by Raccoon labelmates High Country) makes an appearance. “Ocean of Diamonds” by Cliff Carnahan offers Levinger a chance to show off some pedal steel chops and Hank Williams makes an appearance with the group giving “Honky Tonk Blues” an off-kilter swing. The selections and the general atmosphere of camaraderie is cut from the same cloth as The Band’s early output (though with far less emphasis on the tightness of arrangements and harmonies).

Every so often, however, the fellas get cleaned up and down to business. “Vanderbilt’s Lament” is exactly the sort of paganistic midsummer romp needed to liven up an otherwise comfortable affair. Images of the ensemble set against a massive pyre in the middle of a swamp are conjured up as the rabid hootenanny devolves into the far-more-gentle, though equally haunting “Interlude.” The perfect circular instrumental with its flawless dosage of creepiness is as much indebted to John Fahey as Dr. John. “Familiar Patterns” is credited to bassist Michael Kane, and packs a wallop of heartache into the wide open sparse arrangement. The pedal steel returns and lets the tune drift endlessly through one’s ears all day. Before shutting down the show, Banana delivers the fantastic “Lucas Valley Breakdown”, a Flatt and Scruggs style number on which Levinger plays all instruments involved. The record closes with “The Rights of Man”—and Banana’s finest vocal delivery on the LP. Accompanied only by guitar, Levinger adheres to the whole brevity thing, making his point and shutting things down beautifully.
by James Rooney

1. Back In The U.S.A (Chuck Berry) - 2:54
2. My True Life Blues (Lowell Levinger) - 3:48
3. Vanderbilt's Lament (Joe Bauer, Richard Anderson, Lowell Levinger, Michael Kane) - 2:49
4. Interlude (Lowell Levinger) - 2:49
5. Double Interlude (Lowell Levinger, Joe Bauer, Steve Swallow) - 0:57
6. Sittin' Alone In The Moonlight (Bill Monroe) - 2:16
7. In Foggy Old London (Al Robinson) - 1:45
8. Before The Sun Goes Down (Jerry Organ, Vernon Claud) - 2:03
9. New Sail Away Ladies (Lowell Levinger) - 2:31
10.Ocean Of Diamonds (Cliff Carnahan) - 3:51
11.Familiar Patterns (Michael Kane) - 3:38
12.Great Blue Heron (Lowell Levinger) - 3:29
13.Honky Tonk Blues (Hank Williams) - 2:09
14.Lucas Valley Breakdown (Lowell Levinger) - 1:37
15.The Rights Of Man (Peter Golden) - 2:00

*Lowell Levinger "Banana" -  Banjo, Bass, Claves, Guitar, Mandola, Mandolin, Pedal Steel, Piano
*Michael Kane - Bass, Mandolin, Piano, Vocals
*Joe Bauer - Drums, Percussion
*Steve Swallow - Bass
*Richard Earthquake Anderson - Harp

Related Act
1969  Elephant Mountain (Sundazed expanded and  2014 Japan Blu Spec Edition)
1970  The Youngbloods - Rock Festival
1971  Beautiful! Live In San Francisco (Sundazed edition)