In 1973, John Fogerty's Blue Ridge Rangers album was at once his first collection of cover songs and the most freeze-dried music Fogerty had ever made. Always a studio perfectionist, Fogerty used the occasion to take the idea of a solo album literally. Freed from the humans known as Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fogerty got perfectionism out of his system. One beneficial result is that now, 36 years later, he's turned the Blue Ridge Rangers into a free-form, shifting group of studio musicians, and his pleasure in collaboration is palpable.
John Fogerty was the frontman of the classic swamp rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival.
John Fogerty was the frontman of the classic swamp rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival. Reed Saxon/AP
One thing this new collection proves is that, for as much of a classic-rock artist he's been labeled, a big part of Fogerty's heart and mind resides in country music. This was always true to some extent. On Creedence albums ranging from Bayou Country to Cosmo's Factory, he's often phrased lyrics like a country singer. And here, on songs made famous by country singers as different as Buck Owens and Ray Price, Fogerty sings with a new expansiveness. His standard scratchy bark is loosened, lubricated by relaxing into the loping melodies he's selected.
Fogerty is an open-minded musician. He doesn't hold mere prettiness or sentimentality against what he deems a good song. He hears past the cultural baggage a hit may carry. Thus he approaches John Denver's "Back Home Again" or Pat Boone's 1961 number-one hit "Moody River" with an aim to juice up the music, scraping away its status as an oldie.
Among the honorary Blue Ridge Rangers riding along with Fogerty are drummer Kenny Aronoff and the guitarist Buddy Miller, whom Fogerty credits with bringing the Ray Price hit "Fallin' Fallin' Fallin'" to his attention. It turns out to be one of the high points of the album, and Fogerty's arrangement of the song provides a tight little piece of rocking Western swing.
It's nice to hear Fogerty and Bruce Springsteen — who provides a hoarse, high harmony — take back the Phil Everly song "When Will I Be Loved" from the squishy 1974 hit record Linda Ronstadt made out of it. Fogerty returns the original sense of urgency and heedless desperation that the Everly Brothers gave to the song.
Ultimately, Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again is John Fogerty's version of a party album, which — for all its smiley cheerfulness centers on its creator's intensity. Perhaps that's because as a once-and-future control-freak, Forgerty derives pleasure from bearing down hard on light music. In Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again, he demonstrates that pleasure can bear the weight of discipline and history.