Double Dutch

The Ranch Girls keep the heart of American country beating in Holland.

On the other hand, she avoids stripping her music of a foreign accent. "We put our own culture in it," Mary Ann says. "That's why it's a little bit different from how an American band would play it. It's not better, but it's different." She cites the group's harmonies as proof. "We listen to the old American harmonies from the '40s," she says. "But they used to sing harmony here, as well, back then. Sometimes, we put maybe a few chords from a Dutch harmony into a song and it sounds different to you, since you're not used to it. It's a weird mixture of tunes. And we don't speak the English language the whole day, so that's also why it will sound different."

One stylistic maneuver the group has embraced is the antique recording method of America's early trailblazers. Hillbilly Harmonyis distinguished by the same rustic production that thrills vinyl-collecting diehards who seek out dusty records by both known and unsung American artists. The CD's liner notes even include a listing of the band's arcane recording gear -- including old-fashioned microphones, vintage slapback and echo units -- and a stage plot showing where each performer stood when recording the platter straight-to-tape. Like the disc's minimalist sound, these details are a clever nod to the production values of the band's idols. Not that every listener has appreciated these touches, though. "We got a lot criticism about it," Sixpack says, "because sometimes it sounds so cracky. Everything was done in one take, and maybe in that one take there's a slip of the string in my guitar, or a voice is a little hoarse. It's not perfect."

Since the majority of Europe's record buyers have been weaned on modern recordings, Sixpack says, people have complained that the band sounds amateurish. Some of that criticism may be true, Sixpack admits. "We recorded with all of that old equipment but with no engineer," he says. "No one who studied how to handle that stuff. In the old days, those guys had more knowledge about studio equipment than they do today, there was a lot of science going on that is lost now. Some of those guys had big ears back then. The old equipment had its limitations, but they knew how to work with it." On the two new full-length CDs currently in production -- an all-covers set to be released under the full band's name and a solo recording that will be under Mary Ann's handle -- Sixpack says the group will make a few concessions to modern recording styles, blending old methods with current ones.

They enjoy being Ranch Girls: Mary Lou (left) and Mary Ann dream of their Ragtime Wranglers.
They enjoy being Ranch Girls: Mary Lou (left) and Mary Ann dream of their Ragtime Wranglers.

In addition to working on these new recordings, the band is awaiting the release of a few tunes they cut in England with rockabilly legend (and Golden, Colorado, resident) Hardrock Gunter. This past winter the band also backed up the Collins Kids -- Lawrence and Lawrencine -- for a few shows on that act's reunion tour. Over the past few years, the Ranch Girls & Their Ragtime Wranglers have developed their audiences in Scandinavia, Italy, Germany and other European countries. They're now in the swing of a ten-date/ten-cities tour of the United States in an effort to put their names back in the consciousness of Americans who haven't seen the band since 1998. (That tour included a stopover in Denver for one of the now-defunct yearly Rock-N-Rhythm Billy Weekend events.)

The current stateside jaunt is a chance for the band to play with some of their American allies, too -- artists such as Deke Dickerson, Dave Stuckey and Big Sandy and others with whom the band has played in Europe. The U.S. tour is also something of a homecoming for the group, a chance to retrace the steps of their music's creators. "We will play some clubs that existed back in the '50s," Sixpack says, "the same clubs where some of the bands we like played. It's very exciting. Here in Holland it's so different. We have so little space and so many people, they tear down things so easily. And the entire center of the city was bombed in WWII, so we have not many old buildings left here. In the States there is more old stuff to see."

"Over here there's almost no nature left anymore," Mary Ann says, "while in America there is so much room." There's also plenty she wants to see. "In Seattle I want to see the tower," she says. "How do you call that, the Needle? Yellowstone Park, that's something I really want to see, also. It's so beautiful. And maybe if we have time in San Diego, we will try and get to Mexico. And driving across the desert and seeing all the cactus, that is amazing." Beyond all that scenery, however, there's something else she and her mates are even more eager to see while they're on North American soil: crowds of smiling people soaking up the band's born-in-the-USA sound. "Coming to America to play is a big thrill, and it's so weird for us," Mary Ann says. "It's the same as an American band coming over to play Dutch music. It's unbelievable that we come over to your country to play your music. It's a thrill that somebody even wants us there!"

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