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Trade Union

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Album Review

Since the ten songs and 39 minutes of music on Trade Union, the Tractors' fourth non-holiday album, sound like they could have been recorded by a competent Southern bar band in a weekend, it may seem surprising that this is the group's follow-up to Fast Girl, which appeared in 2001 (there was also a Christmas set, The Big Night, a mere six and a half years ago), and, from bandleader Steve Ripley's extensive liner notes, it sounds like he and his fellow musicians have been working away at it at the Church Studio in Tulsa, OK, all these years. (Although 22 musicians and singers appear on the disc, it's not clear who besides Ripley is a permanent member of the Tractors at this point, but then it's hard to keep a working band together when it's not actually working.) The history of popular music is full of eccentric auteurs laboring away year after year in search of musical perfection, from Brian Wilson and John Fogerty to Tom Scholz and Lucinda Williams, and Ripley seems to be bidding to join their ranks. In his case, however, perfection seems to consist in coming up with the ideal off-the-cuff-sounding first-take-like "feel" performance, so rough it has count-ins and breakdowns left on the track. Ripley wants to re-create the swampy history of Tulsa country/blues/rock, à la Leon Russell and J.J. Cale, both of whom, not coincidentally, turn up on the record sounding very much like themselves. And, it must be said, he very largely succeeds. His idols, dating back to the days of the Sun Studio, may have turned out this sort of thing a lot quicker, but Ripley has come up with tracks that sound like they might have been made in the mid-'50s or the late '60s.

Customer Reviews


All I can say is, it's about time! If you love The Tractors, this album doesn't dissapoint. It's been a long time coming, but well worth the wait.

Steve Ripley's finest work to date...

Many years ago after visiting my in-laws on their farm in rural Oklahoma, my then-five-year-old son Jason (after an afternoon of riding around in his Grandpa's pickup) looked at me with a big grin on his face and said, "Dad, I sure like that farm music". Despite growing up in Oklahoma with its rich history of western-swing & country music roots, I had a similar revelation in 1994 when I first heard the debut CD of an Oklahoma-bred group called "The Tractors", fronted by an old friend, the multi-talented Steve Ripley.

That self-titled CD was filled with toe-tapping, boogie-woogie, good-timey music that made you smile and want to get up and dance `til you dropped. Since that first release the genius that is Steve Ripley has continued to crank out "Tractor" music, including his latest offering, and the first Tractor CD in almost seven years, "Trade Union". Filled with many great original tunes and the usual stellar cast of "satellite" musicians, which include Ripley-friend and musical compatriot Leon Russell, singer/songwriter/guitarist J.J. Cale, and drummer Jimmy Karstein, all three originators of what has been coined "The Tulsa Sound", "Trade Union" may be Steve Ripley's finest work to date.

The opening song, "Up Jumped The Boogie", co-written with Russell and featuring his good-timey piano, is a rollicking, high-energy rocker inspired by a suggestion from writer Stephen King, and featuring Ripley's typical "better listen close or you'll miss something" arrangements. Having heard an early demo of this song I couldn't wait for its eventual release. Let me tell you, it was worth the wait...

Next is the Harlan Howard-penned classic "Pick Me Up On Your Way Down" featuring the pedal-steel and fiddle of multi-instrumentalist Fats Kaplin, the piano stylings of Spencer Sutton (formerly of the late-Debbie Campbell's band), Tractor Casey Van Beek on bass, Jimmy Karstein on drums, Bud Deal & Mike Panno on saxophone, and head-Tractor Steve Ripley on guitars and vocals. This one just has the feel of a hit song...

"Rhythm Bone", a J.J. Cale composition, was originally a Cale demo that Ripley took and built a production around, adding additional vocals, guitars, horns, etc. The final result is a "J.J. Tractors" hit, featuring Cale & Ripley on vocals/guitars, Casey Van Beek on bass, Jimmy Karstein on drums, Fats Kaplin on steel guitar/accordion, Bud Deal on tenor sax, Mike Panno on baritone sax, and Glen Mitchell on Hammond B3 organ. I keep hearing that backbeat...

The Leon Russell composition "Good Old Days" reflects the gospel-tinged good-timey piano chops of Russell, along with Ripley's tight, swinging arrangement that features himself on vocals/guitar, Russell on vocals/piano, Casey Van Beek on bass, Jimmy Karstein on drums, Fats Kaplin on fiddle/steel/accordion, Bud Deal & Mike Panno on saxophones, Glen Mitchell on B3, and the late-Byron Davis & Cheryl Wright on backup vocals. As the song says, it makes you feel so good, talkin' `bout the good old days...

Ripley slows it down with "There's Gonna Be Some Changes Made", a Steve Ripley/Walt Richmond composition, featuring Ripley on vocals/guitar, background vocals by the late-Debbie Campbell, ex-Silver Bullet member David Teegarden on drums, Fats Kaplin on steel guitar, Glen Mitchell on B3, Joe Davis on saxophone, and a mini-Tractors reunion in the form of Ron Getman on guitar, Casey Van Beek on bass, Walt Richmond on piano, and Jamie Oldaker on tambourine, which helps give this track the great feel of earlier Tractor releases.

I'll leave the remainder of "Trade Union" for you to discover on your own, but rest assured that this album is a brilliant, fun-filled journey through the world of Oklahoma western-swing, country, rock, blues, and jazz, with a pinch of red dirt & the Tulsa Sound thrown in for good measure. And to quote my son, "I sure like that farm music!"

Steve Todoroff
Tulsa Area Music Archives

Good Stuff

Great record!!!


Genre: Country

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

The Tractors were one of the country-rock bands to benefit from the modern country boom of the early '90s. With their good-time boogie and rootsy country-rock, the Tractors were able to send their eponymous debut to platinum status. Although based in Tulsa, all of the members of the Tractors — guitarist Steve Ripley, bassist Ron Getman, vocalist Casey Van Beek, keyboardist Walt Richmond, and drummer Jamie Oldaker — were well-known Nashville session musicians before they came to prominence...
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Trade Union, The Tractors
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