Another Midwestern band of the same era, the MC5. The group created loud, in-your-face music that largely influenced future bands and, akin to James Gang, had a similarly poor history of record sales.
James Gang’s failure to become a bona fide contender (as an opening act) parallels Stacy Keach’s role in John Huston’s Fat City, a film about a boxer on his way down. The promising young pugilist on his way up (played by Jeff Bridges) resembles Joe Walsh’s ascent.
James Gang never made it to headliner status, nor did any of its members not named Joe Walsh. The trio was named after the gang of Jesse James, a point underscored by the wanted-poster look of the cover graphic. The group went through several iterations before and after Walsh’s involvement (from 1968 to 1970). Walsh, who later gained fame with the Eagles, functioned as the trio’s driving force for three albums—Yer’ Album, James Gang Rides Again, and Thirds. James Gang Rides Again remains the best of the lot, and its back-cover photo is telling.
In it, founding member and drummer Jim Foxsits on a motorcycle with bassist Dale Peters. Big grins grace both of their faces. On a separate motorcycle, Walsh sits alone, pouting and looking bored witless. James Gang continued to tour and record after Walsh’s departure, but it was never the same. As such, The Best of the James Gang is indeed the best way to hear James Gang. While the ensemble featured a very tight, fierce, well-recorded sound during its peak, 10 tracks hit the outer limits of what still holds interest. The four cuts from James Gang Rides Again comprise the strongest numbers here, and the sharp instrumental work on display will likely make you wonder why Fox and Peters never gained wider fame.
With the exception of one track, The Best of the James Gang was assembled from analog tape and sounds outstanding. The music demands to be played loud, and the fine mastering by Kevin Gray allows you to turn it up as much as your ears and system allow without any signs of stress from the vinyl. Keep in mind there’s little subtlety when it comes to these songs. As the liner notes of James Gang Rides Again dictate, these tracks are “Made Loud To Be Played Loud” and you don’t expect, and won’t find, much in the way of stage depth or air around the instruments. What you do get is the sound of a power trio sounding more powerful than ever. The drums, bass, and guitar are never buried in the mix and everything is clearly recorded.
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