Oyster Band, Ride (Cooking Vinyl, 1989)  

Ride is without doubt one of my favourite Oyster albums with nothing but strong tracks from beginning to end on it. Originally released as an a LP in the UK and Germany (as were most of The Men They Couldn't Hang recordings of this period), it is unusual in that there are no guest musicians 'tall on it -- just John Jones (vocals, melodeon); Ian Telfer (fiddle, alto saxophone, organ); Alan Prosser (guitars, vocals, bones); Russell Lax (drums); and Chopper (bass guitar, electric cello, vocals)! Thus it has a more stripped down sound, a clarity of presentation which I must note sometimes gets lost on their later recordings.

They're songs -- here -- show you how deep the talent is in the Oysters when you look at who wrote each song:

'Gamblers (We Do Not Do That Anymore)' (Ian Telfer / Alan Prosser)
'Polish Plain' (Ian Telfer / Alan Prosser)
'Too Late Now' (Ian Telfer / Alan Prosser / John Jones / Ian Kearey)
'Tincans' (Ian Telfer / John Jones)
'Heaven To Calcutta' (Ian Telfer / Alan Prosser / John Jones)
'This Year, Next Year' (Ian Telfer)
'My Dog (Knows Where The Bones Are Hid)' (Ian Telfer / Alan Prosser / John Jones)
'The Sins Of A Family' (Ian Telfer / John Jones)
'Take Me Down' (Ian Telfer / Alan Prosser / John Jones)
'Cheekbone City' (Ian Telfer / Alan Prosser)

Two songs, 'New York Girls' (Trad. Arr. Oyster Band) and 'Love Vigilantes' (Stephen Morris / Peter Hook / Bernard Sumner / Gillian Gilbert [aka New Order]), reflect their ability to take existing works and make them their own. This is the second tome they recorded 'New York Girls' as it's also Leipzig to Little Rock.

This album has some of their best political music ever as you can see from the opening stanza of 'My Dog (Knows Where The Bones Are Hid):

My dog's an awkward hound, sniffing / round on the ground, tail up nose down / for hours and hours and hours and hours / sniffing at the garbage cans of power / he don't smell like a flower / (take a whiff, take a shower) / but he knows what's underneath that lid', and their use of dance as a motif in 'Take me down

I am dancing in the spotlight / the light is like a knife / dancing in the mirror / I am dancing for my life / At the stroke of midnight / when the music stops / tell me what your name is / but do not let me drop.

A folk band they do not sound like on this album, but instead come across as a very smart pop band, think New Order or Spandau Ballet for the sake of what I see here.

John Jones has quite likely the most perfect male singing voice which I've ever heard, period. On some Oyster recordings, his sublime vocals get mixed back just a bit too much in the recording mix, but not here. Every word, every bit of emotion is clearly able to be savoured by the listener. This along with previous two albums they released, Wide Blue Yonder and Step Outside have arguably have the best vocals of all of the recorded output of this band in just sheer quality of what they sound like.

If you haven't heard this yet, you are definitely in for a treat!

[Iain Nicholas Mackenzie]