New Riders of the Purple Sage - self-titled

New Riders of the Purple Sage
New Riders of the Purple Sage


First Appeared at The Music Box, August 2003, Volume 10, #8

Written by John Metzger


What started with The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo and continued with Untitled as well The Grateful Dead’s Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty suddenly became mainstream with the release of the magnificent debut from New Riders of the Purple Sage [NRPS]. Reaching number 39 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, the eponymous album delivered a delectable dish of country, rock, and psychedelia that appealed to a rapidly growing audience of space cowboys. Of course it helped that NRPS had gotten its start as a Grateful Dead spin-off that featured Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, and Jerry Garcia along with David Nelson and songwriter John Dawson, but by 1971, the band had evolved into its own entity as Dave Torbert replaced Lesh and former Jefferson Airplane drummer Spencer Dryden stepped in for Hart. Garcia soon would leave the band too, but not before he added some stunning pedal steel guitar to the group’s initial outing.

Recently, New Riders of the Purple Sage was completely remastered and augmented with a trio of bonus tracks. Quite frankly, it has never sounded better. The album now boasts a crisp clarity that allows the music to ooze from one’s stereo speakers with a sweet sonic splendor that illuminates the songs’ magical twists and turns, causing the lyrics’ southwestern imagery to spring to life through the expansive, mescaline-soaked musical arrangements. Tight vocal harmonies graced tracks like the bouncy pop of I Don’t Know You as well as the Simon & Garfunkel-influenced Louisiana Lady, and Garcia underscored each tune with powerful peals of pedal steel — from the distorted effects of Dirty Business to his majestic musings on Last Lonely Eagle. Add to this three prime concert cuts — a sprightly cover of Joe South’s Down in the Boondocks, a leisurely stroll through Robbie Robertson’s The Weight, and the gentle gait of Dawson’s Superman — and a classic, psychedelic-cowboy album becomes even better. Indeed, NRPS released several other respectable outings in the wake of its debut, but none matched the superlative sublimity of New Riders of the Purple Sage. starstarstarstar ½

New Riders of the Purple Sage is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


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