Two years separated Rank and File's acclaimed debut album, Sundown, and 1984's follow-up, Long Gone Dead, and the band had gone through some major changes in the interim. Guitarist Alejandro Escovedo left the group to form the True Believers, and drummer Slim Evans had also parted ways with the band, leaving vocalists and songwriters Chip Kinman and Tony Kinman to record Long Gone Dead with a band of veteran session players, including Tom Petty drummer Stan Lynch, former Seatrain fiddler Richard Greene, and multi-instrumentalist Peter Grant, who'd previously picked with Guy Clark and the Incredible String Band. The result was a considerably lusher and more pop-oriented album than Sundown. While the band's maintained its country cred with tunes like "It Don't Matter" and a revved-up cover of Lefty Frizzell's "I'm an Old Old Man" that sounded like the Flying Burrito Brothers at full gallop, most of Long Gone Dead found the band moving away from its Bakersfield-influenced sound, as evidenced in the Motown-styled guitar figures on "Saddest Girl in the World," the Byrds-ian feel of "Sound of the Rain" (a tune that dated back to the Kinmans' days in the Dils), and the polished and hooky arrangement and production of "Tell Her I Love Her." The band also seemed to be a bit less interested in working-class politics than on Sundown, with only "John Brown" matching the rabble-rousing vibe of the debut, though there are flashes of their populist stance scattered through a few other songs. While a more ambitious and musically diverse album than Sundown, Long Gone Dead just doesn't have the same tight focus and sharp impact of the debut, though the consistent strength of the songwriting is impressive and the high points are impressive indeed. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

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