The first four albums of the country-rock band, The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, are each quite good and contain the group’s signature songs. Of these four albums, I’m hard-pressed to pick a favorite, although I’ve narrowed it down to either of the first two albums.
This was the early 1970s when country influence in the rock genre was accepted and proved very popular with fans. The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Neil Young, Poco, Loggins & Messina, Charlie Daniels, Allman Brothers, Pure Prairie League, Marshall Tucker Band, and others had great success.
The Ozark Mountain Daredevils hailed from Missouri and found success with their self-titled debut album (1973). The band was paired with two producers, Glyn Johns (Rolling Stones, Who, Beatles) and David Anderle. The debut album was recorded in England, the home base of Johns.
Leading off with Randle Chowning’s “Country Girl,” the easy-going, foot-stomping sing-along theme. The song sounded similar to the Eagles’ “Take It Easy.”
Next up was drummer Larry Lee’s “Spaceship Orion,” a gentle, soft-rock ballad, sung in Lee’s pleasing tenor voice. Not released as a single, it could have been a hit. Lee had a mainstream appeal beyond the blue denim crowd.
“If You Want to Get to Heaven,” Steve Cash and Mike Dillon’s rocking ode to raising a little hell. A number 25 chart hit. The Daredevils made the harmonica a cool rock ‘n’ roll instrument.
“Chicken Train” (Cash) was s stompin’ harmonic-driven country song.
“Colorado Song” (Cash/Dillon) an acoustic guitar calling, a more relaxed version of “Rocky Mountain High.” Nice harmony vocals.
“Standin’ On the Rock” (Dillon) Back to the country with a strong beat, guitars, fiddle and harmonica. You want to sing along, go ahead.
“Road to Glory” (Chowning) A slower version of “Country Girl” but with the same hooks. A nice, gentle song with a lot to like.
“Black Sky” (Cash) An acoustic country-rocker. Some nice slide guitar work. Not a great song, but it will appeal to those who like the country side of the group.
“Within Without” (Lee) A pleasing acoustic, mid-tempo song. Not one of his best, but a nice listen.
“Beauty in the River” (Dillon) The album closes with another country number. For a country-rock song, this one is pretty good.
What is clear about the band is the push-pull between being a legitimate country-folk band with their country-roots, and a mainstream country-rock band with chart hits like the Eagles.
It’ll Shine When it Shines followed in 1974 with the same production team, but the project was recorded back in Missouri with a mobile production truck.
“You Made it Right” (John Dillon, Elizabeth Anderson) leads off, it is a country-rocker with enough of a melodic hook to make it pleasing to non-country fans.
“Look Away” (Chowning) is an old fashioned rocker with Jerry Lee Lewis style piano. A very pleasing song with powerful hook on the chorus. Not quite a classic but a very good song.
“Jackie Blue” (Lee/Cash) What can you say about this song? It was almost not included on the album. Lee wrote the music and original lyrics, but producer Johns insisted that it be re-written, which Cash stepped up to do. It has a harder edge rock arrangement than other Daredevil songs. This made Lee the budding star in the band. A number three hit in America, it also had legs on charts around the world. After this song, the band naturally was pressured by the record company for more mainstream songs like this one. When the band plays this song in concert, the audience vibe dramatically rises. I remember seeing this concert when the band toured through my college town. What a thrill!
“Kansas You Fooler” (Lee) is an uptempo song, although an average effort by Lee.
“It Couldn’t Be Better (Dillon/Anderson) A quiet, acoustic ballad, with cricket sound effects. Soothing.
“E.E. Lawson” (Cash) A real change of pace. Not sure how to describe this. Kind of a novelty song.
“Walkin’ Down the Road” (Dillon) Another country song, with a pounding beat. Okay, but nothing special about this song.
“What’s Happened to My Life” (Lee) Another mid-tempo song with a pleasing melody and gentle flow. When you need a mainstream, soft-rock effort, the group turns to Lee. Not quite “Jackie Blue” but a quality effort.
“It Probably Always Will” (Granda) Back to the country style. Bass player Michael Granda does not often write, but this is a good effort. Nice acoustic guitar work.
“Lowlands” (Dillon) This quiet, acoustic ballad reminds you of Gordon Lightfoot or Kenny Loggins. It is a fine effort.
“Tidal Wave” (Dillon/Cash) An upbeat rocker, and a good one, with nice vocal work. You still hear a bit of a country influence in the song. Quality lead guitar work, something the band used sparingly.
“It’ll Shine When It Shines” (Dillon/Cash) A relaxed acoustic song, a quiet way to finish the album, but appropriate for these boys who want to give you something to think about.
Both albums are similar in style, ranging from more traditional country-rockers, to acoustic ballads, and finally more countrified tunes. While the second album had the enormous hit, “Jackie Blue,” the debut album has an overall stronger set of songs. Many debut albums are that way, the artist or band uses their strongest numbers written over a longer time period. The follow-up album was recorded less than a year later, which demands a fresh set of songs. The second album does not really expand the band’s sound other than a more traditional rock style of “Jackie Blue.” Unfortunately, the band would not revisit that sound. The Eagles in particular abandoned the country-rock style for a more progressive sound. Poco, with Legend, modified their country sound with more traditional ballads and leaner, heavier guitars.
For comparison, I listened to both the Car Over the Lake and Men From Earth albums. Of the two, Car Over the Lake is the most disappointing of the first four albums, it is average at best. Men From Earth is a very fine set of songs and rivals It’ll Shine When it Shines as the second best OMD album. Lee has two extremely good songs, “You Know Like I Know” and “It’s How You Think.” Dillon offers three very good songs including “Noah.”