When the first Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers album appeared in 1997 it was praised in places like Mojo as a return to ex-Jayhawk, Mark Olson’s folk and country roots. The story of Olson, his then wife Victoria Williams, recording it in their living room in Joshua Tree with neighbour Mike Russell and then selling it out of the house made good copy. That first record is good, but sounds like exactly what it is, a few friends recording an album for their own enjoyment that turned out well enough to release. The follow up ‘Pacific Coast Rambler’ is an altogether more considered, and better set of songs.
The original trio were joined by Marc Ford, then recently fired from The Black Crowes. The addition of his guitar gave an instantly more professional feel to proceedings. Olson and Williams (again credited as Mabel Allbright for contractual reasons) slightly wobbly harmonies remained to keep the ‘homemade’ feel, and a wider instrumental palette than the first album didn’t spoil that.
The songs are better realised as well. Opener, ‘Give My Heart To You’ is a simple folk song, “I give my heart to you. Just ’cause you’re sweet and true”. Elsewhere ‘Prayer Of The Changing Leaf’ is Williams’ arrangement of a Tennessee Williams verse. The title track, like many of the songs here is taken at a stately pace, with guitar and accordion backing Olson and Williams’ voices which alternate on the verses and blend on the chorus.
With only a couple of exceptions the lo-fi recording makes this an album that needs concentration to get the best understanding of it. ‘Pacific Coast Rambler’ like its predecessor is the sound of Olson rejecting the music industry. The recordings deliberately look backwards to a time of gathering round a single microphone or just singing at home for your own pleasure. ‘Golden State Locket’s’ off key harmonies and abrupt ending remind you of field recordings from the 1930s or even earlier.
The blend of the homespun intimacy of the first album with a more organised approach to the songs and playing gives just the right balance, one that was slightly lost on subsequent albums when record companies and more musicians became involved. So as the best expression of the Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers music warts and all, this is an album you should hear. As long as you don’t expect a crystal clear sound and everything in time with a click track.