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Album Review

British musician Cypress Grove was doing some housecleaning in 2006 when he ran across a battered old cassette with a label that read "JLP Songs." Grove soon discovered that the tape was the long-forgotten document of a songwriting session between himself and Jeffrey Lee Pierce, the firebrand leader of the blues-punk band the Gun Club who died in 1996 at the age of 38. While the fidelity of the tape was too poor for commercial release and some of the songs were mere fragments, Grove was struck by the strength of "Constant Waiting," "Ramblin' Mind," and "Free to Walk," and was determined people should have the chance to hear Pierce's lost songs. Working with a handful of Pierce's friends, peers, and admirers, Grove helped to oversee new recordings of these and several other lesser-known Pierce compositions, and the results have appeared as We Are Only Riders, credited to the Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project. Grove's stellar cast for these recordings includes Nick Cave, Deborah Harry, Mark Lanegan, the Raveonettes, Dave Alvin, Kid Congo Powers, the Sadies, Lydia Lunch, and Isobel Campbell, and while the approach of including three performances each of "Constant Waiting," "Ramblin' Mind," and "Free to Walk" (to represent different phases in the development of the tunes) backfires somewhat as they tend to trip over one another, the emotional force and musical strength of these recordings makes this album something special. Cave's version of "Ramblin' Mind" is as dark and ominous as it should be, while David Eugene Edwards makes the song sound like the theme from a particularly inspired spaghetti western; Harry's interpretation of "Lucky Jim" is a lovely, haunting paean to loss and absence; the Sadies transform "Constant Waiting" into a striking bit of overcast country-pop, while Johnny Dowd's take is full of sharp, angular electronics and sound like the stuff of a bitter nightmare; Lanegan and Campbell's rough, sweet harmonies and the bluegrass-influenced acoustic backing on "Free to Walk" find a glimmer of sunlight in the song's dour textures; and the closing rave-up on "Walkin' Down the Street (Doin' My Thing)" sounds like a profane barroom singalong in some village of the damned. We Are Only Riders is powerful reminder of how influential Jeffrey Lee Pierce's music was despite his lack of mainstream success, and how many creative directions his songs could take, making this a remarkable gift from one musician to another.

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