Ryan Thomas Becker is hardly a new entity, having long been a cherished North Texas product thanks to his solo efforts and his work with Grady Don Sandlin in the revered RTB2. And all this is saying nothing of his other collaborations with such acts as Eaton Lake Tonics, The Slow Burners, Hares on a Mountain and in Madison King's backing band. Thus, in many ways, his most recent outfit, Ryan Thomas Becker & Last Joke, featuring Becker and Sandlin alongside Eaton Lake Tonics' Tony Ferraro and Oso Closo's Andy Rogers, is simply a continuation of the artist's prolific, collaborative ways.
It's also winking nod to those ways: Last Joke Band features six songs, none of which were written by Becker; instead, the debut release from Becker and his latest batch of cohorts tackles songs penned by other Texas outfits — Denton's New Science Projects, Austin's Leatherbag and Ferraro's own Eaton Lake Tonics among them. They're updated, of course; each song is given a gritty re-imagining, as should be expected considering Becker's warbling howl.
The results impress: "No Time Lover" is a sarcastic, electric, Prohibition-era jaunt; "The Train" is a pensive, introspective heart-wrencher; "No, We Can't Be Friends" is a downtrodden delight; and "Death & Taxes" finds Becker perhaps finally succumbing to his eventual country-tinged destiny.
In the meantime, though, there's plenty of revving up to do. The album's standouts, "Tom Petty Summer" and "Theme to House Party 3," from Leatherbag and Becker's lifelong friend Grant Cross, respectively, provide the release with some much-needed rollick — especially the latter, which fittingly stands as the Summer 2011 Jam That Never Was.
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Becker's long been established as one of the region's finest songwriters. Turns out, even when he isn't writing the songs, he's still pretty great.