Thirty years ago this summer, I moved to Madison, Wisconsin, and discovered an indie radio station with a playlist of songs that sounded nothing like the AM and FM radio I’d grown up with.
Prime listening time was roughly 2 to 4 p.m. weekdays, the down time between working out and heading to work. That’s when the volunteer DJs on WORT-FM — Back Porch Radio — dropped rock, funk, R&B, hip-hop, soul, punk and country into their free-form, cutting-edge shows.
That astonishing mix often left my head spinning, barely able to match song with artist. One day, I remained coherent enough to match a band name to something I’d heard on WORT. Then I headed down to State Street to buy “Sundown” by Rank and File.
It was — and is — a crisp, sunny, spirited revival of the Bakersfield country sound done by some California guys who came together in Austin, Texas, in the early ’80s.
It fell into the cowpunk genre, but it was punk only in that brothers Chip and Tony Kinman put together Rank and File after their punk band (the Dils) broke up, and only in that a third member, Alejandro Escovedo, also came from a punk band (the Nuns).
Having grown up watching the Glen Campbell and Johnny Cash variety shows, country always had a place at our table. Amid all that adventurous and sometimes intimidating music on WORT, “Sundown” was accessible, something vaguely familiar.
“Sundown” is one of those records that captures a certain time in my life. I drop it on the turntable, and the sense that I am exploring brave new worlds comes rushing back. Side 1, which we have for you tonight, plays like a single song in my head. I played it that often.
“Amanda Ruth,” “(Glad I’m) Not In Love,” “Rank And File” and “The Conductor Wore Black,” Rank and File, from “Sundown,” 1982. This is Side 1. It runs 13:46. It’s out of print but is available digitally on “Rank and File: The Slash Years,” a 2007 release with “Sundown” and “Long Gone Dead,” the first two Rank and File albums.
That crisp, sunny, spirited moment was fleeting, relatively speaking.
Escovedo left after “Sundown” and went on to a fine solo career.
Rank and File put out only two more albums, doing both with session musicians. I once had the second album, “Long Gone Dead” from 1984, which some people like. I remember nothing about it.
The band broke up in 1987. The Kinman brothers then formed Blackbird, a synth-pop group, then by the mid-’90s had wandered back to cowpunk and eventually back to punk.