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Critic's pick: John Fogerty, 'The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again'

When Creedence Clearwater Revival split acrimoniously in 1972, group chieftain John Fogerty retreated into the recesses of country-roots music and emerged a year later with The Blue Ridge Rangers and a self-titled album.

It wasn't a new band, of course. Fogerty played all the instruments and over-dubbed the vocals with the same degree of bayou frenzy that made Creedence's music so distinctive.

At this, critics and fans scratched their heads and, very gradually, Fogerty veered into a solo career.

The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again is a sequel only in terms of intent. As with its 36-year-old predecessor, its homespun charm is so immediately infectious, you can almost overlook the newer album's grammatically stymied title.

Instead of pure country and gospel, Fogerty now reaches across vintage pop and Americana lines, covering everyone from Buck Owens to Jumpin' Gene Simmons (no, not the Kiss tongue-waggler, but the rockabilly pop singer whose 1964 hit Haunted House is cheerfully redone here).

Instead of a one-man setting, Fogerty enlists Americana song stylist Buddy Miller, pedal-/lap-steel guitarist Greg Leisz and longtime drummer Kenny Aronoff. Instead of overdubbing his vocals into a single chorus, Fogerty farms out harmonies to a pack of high-profile pals, including Bruce Springsteen on a jolly album-finale cover of the Everly Brothers' hit When Will I Be Loved and Eagles Don Henley and Timothy B. Schmidt on Rick Nelson's breezy 1972 declaration of pop independence Garden Party. (Fogerty oversaw Nelson's posthumous induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.)

Mostly, Rides Again is an altogether gentler ride than before. On the 1972 album, Fogerty's multi-tracked gospel takes of Workin' on a Building and Somewhere Listening (For My Name) were hair-raising adventures. And needless to say, anyone who missed the original album Blue Ridge Rangers seriously needs to check it out. It's not required listening for appreciating Rides Again. It's just a great slice of singularly produced spiritualism.

Today, at age 64, Fogerty's voice for such revivalism has settled somewhat. The country command in his singing remains keen, although that massive, swampy Creedence accent is summoned here only on a remake of his own Change in the Weather from 1986. This version is smoother in vocal temperament, but the song's story line of a fear-addled world and its unblinking eye toward Judgment Day reflects greater topicality today.

Just as the original Blue Ridge Rangers had its lighter moments (including a jubilation-filled, Creedence-style reworking of Hank Williams' Jambalaya), Rides Again heads to the porch with a summery acoustic take on the 1971 Delaney and Bonnie hit Never Ending Song of Love. Even the well-worn John Prine classic Paradise and its demon images of coal-company shovels in Muhlenberg County sounds relaxed, with renewed emphasis on bluegrass acoustics. The environmental message, though, chimes loudly.

One of the album's great curiosities, though, is the murder ballad Moody River, popularized by Pat Boone in 1961. Fogerty maintains a similarly spry tempo with chirpy mandolin and guitar melodies that fly in the face of the song's frightful lyrics. It is one of the most stunning treats on an album that purposefully avoids forward motion. Rides Again instead favors an unapologetic but altogether gentler glance backward at the roots inspirations behind one of our most tireless rock 'n' roll warriors.

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