The Rainmakers are back

Some bands evoke a time and place within particular listeners like nothing else can. For me, that band is The Rainmakers. Like me, the band hails from Missouri, and references to Kansas City, Columbia and other familiar landmarks are scattered throughout their work. In the mid- to late-’80s, they were a regional band that broke out into a national prominence – Newsday called them “America’s great next band”  – that ended all too soon. I was in graduate school in Columbia at the time and got a chance to see them live at a local bar before they broke too big. I’ve been a fan since.

Because their national heyday didn’t last long, though, I lost track of them after I left Missouri. In the late ’90s or thereabout, I looked them up online and found some of their original albums in CD format and even – gasp! – a new one: 1997’s “Skin,” which would be their last album until their release this year. Though they had fizzled in the U.S., it turns out they remained hot in Norway.

If you remember them, it’s probably for some of the hits they produced in late ’80s: “Let My People Go Go,” “Drinking on the Job,” “Long Gone Long.” Ironic, iconic songs with clever, provocative lyrics were their hallmark. One line from “Drinking on the Job” was awarded Music Connection’s Lyric Line of the Year: “The generation that would change the world is still looking for its car keys.” Musically, they were skilled but not too fancy: Loud guitar, drums, bass, the occasional piano and frontmanBob Walkenhorst’s distinctive, sardonic twang. But it was good, old-fashioned, refreshing straight-on rock-‘n’-roll at a time when synthesizers and pop were ruling the airwaves.

Twenty-five years after the release of their first album, and after a lengthy hiatus, Walkenhorst and friends are back with “25 On,” an album that proves that age has been good to them. “25 On” fits in well with rest of The Rainmakers’ catalogue. Put all their albums on shuffle, like I’ve been doing the last week or so, and songs from “25 On” don’t stand out. I don’t mean that in a bad way, at all. The Rainmakers’ music has always been timeless, and “25 On” is no exception.

The band, as always, produces a wide variety of songs, from fun rip-roaring tracks like “Turpentine” to songs with a message like “Like Dogs” to softer, deeper outings like my favorite from the new album, “The Last Song of the Evening.” This is song told from the perspective of a woman who led a simple life well-lived that is so beautiful and achingly sweet and tender, it can bring a tear to your eye if you pay attention to the lyrics. A couple of samples:

I met a blue-eyed man who thought I hung the moon
He carved me a heart out of a walnut tree
He loved me; he loved me

It’s the last song of the evening
Everything turned out all right
Love came down and found me
Now it’s the last song of the night

There’s more humor and bite in “Like Dogs,” a song about an unpleasant man living the good life poorly. Again, the lyrics are superbly crafted and show off Walkenorst’s unique sensibility:

You’re the kind of man who wants everyone to think that he’s successful
So you talk about it and you write about it and blah, blah, blah, blah
But way deep down inside you’re afraid you’re a fraud

If you don’t like dogs, what do you like?
If you don’t like dogs, youre going to wake up some cold night
And howl at the moon alone
If you don’t like dogs, better just go home

It’s good to welcome The Rainmakers’ back. It’s not clear if this is a one-time reunion thing, or if they’re planning on resuming their career. I hope it’s the latter, and I hope they’re planning a tour. I’d love the chance to see them live one more time.

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