‘THIRD RATE Romance’, an intriguing mystery on Jesse Winchester’s ’74 album, Learn to Love It, is no longer mysterious – the song’s become a well-deserved hit, as played by its originator, Tennessean Russell Smith and his band, the Amazing Rhythm Aces.
While the Aces’ recording of this disarming shuffle hits just the right note, the group’s first album is an uneven hodgepodge replete with flat jokes and unconvincing stabs at various Southern-rooted idioms.
Affected cornpone, such as ‘Emma-Jean’, is considerably harder to take than the real thing; this cheap kind of pseudosatire characterizes country rock at its worst. Likewise, ‘Life’s Railway to Heaven’, which the Rhythm Aces do two ways – as mock gospel and mock bluegrass – makes for pointless parody. Several other tracks done in country or blues style fail to work as anything more than formal exercises. The grand finale, ‘King of the Cowboys’, an attempt at developing Randy Newman-like double-edged pathos, is flawed but is at least performed with apparent earnestness.
What’s most disturbing about Stacked Deck is Smith’s and his group’s misuse of their not insignificant talents. When they put together their musical skill, wit and charm in the right measure – on the hit, which opens the album; in the oddball rockabilly tune, ‘Hit the Nail on the Head’ and on the pretty harmony songs, ‘The Beautiful Lie’ and ‘My Tears Still Flow’ – the Rhythm Aces show class and confidence. Elsewhere on this perplexing debut, they demonstrate the pitfalls of talent without taste.
© Bud Scoppa, Rolling Stone, 20 November 1975