POP MUSIC REVIEW : McBride and the Ride Prove that They're the Real McCoy

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Everybody knows that a country band is supposed to consist of brothers or cousins, or at least childhood friends, who hone their harmonies singing in the choir of a little backwoods church. As they grow up, they learn to work an audience in rowdy honky-tonks where a false note could bring a barrage of beer cans. Is it possible, then, that McBride and the Ride--three professionals assembled into a band by a Nashville producer--could be the real thing?

During a rousing 1-hour, 10-minute set at the Crazy Horse on Monday night, singer/bassist Terry McBride, guitarist Ray Herndon and drummer Billy Thomas showed the crowd such a good time that nobody really seemed to care whether the three musicians had known each other all their lives or had been introduced yesterday.

Certainly during "Just One Night" and "The Promise Land," as Thomas stepped from behind his kit and McBride put down his bass so they could concentrate on harmonies, the vocal blend was so perfect that these guys could have been singing together since boyhood. Later, during a hot two-song encore ("Ain't No Big Deal" and "Burnin' Up the Road"), McBride and the Ride sounded as "real" as any band, as Thomas led off with a short drum solo, Herndon played some wicked slide guitar and McBride spurred them on with his bass.

It wasn't always that tight, though. For much of the show, as the band focused on re-creating its hits rather than on exploring new directions, two supporting musicians--Gary Morse on steel guitar and Jeffrey Roach on keyboards--supplied most of the instrumental fireworks. Indeed, Thomas was the forgotten man behind his drums most of the night. Even Herndon, a veteran of Lyle Lovett's Large Band, played few guitar solos and limited his interaction with the crowd to a couple of song introductions.

At those moments, McBride and the Ride seemed less like a bona fide group and more like Terry McBride and a backing band (though when Herndon took over on lead vocals for Merle Haggard's "Working Man's Blues," he jammed with Morse and Roach and left McBride acting like the odd man out).

But perhaps McBride and the Ride are wise to let their band evolve at its own speed, rather than to feign a camaraderie before its time. Their individual talents certainly were enough to carry Monday's show: McBride's impassioned singing consistently drew standing ovations. And they were most cohesive on their oldest songs, indicating that their coalescence as a band is coming along.

Maybe by the next time the McBride and the Ride play Orange County, they may be performing their latest hits as though they'd been singing them since their schoolyard days.

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