It's almost a cliché at this point, but listening to The Long Ryders, it's impossible not to think of the group as the missing link between the '60s country-rock of the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers and the alt-country boom sparked by Uncle Tupelo in the '90s. Unfortunately, though it did find minor, fleeting commercial success in the stylistically indeterminate era of the mid-'80s, the group's work has often been overlooked, its albums falling out of print even as more acts stressed the Ryders' influence. Compiling 40 songs from the group's recording career (which stretched only from 1983 to '87), the new two-disc Anthology helps set the record straight. Possessing both the twang and the jangle, the group played country-rock in a way that does justice to both halves of the term, creating a distinctly California sound that's equal parts L.A. and Bakersfield. The talent is evident from the group's first effort, the rare 10-5-60 EP, which is collected here in its entirety. Its five songs capture a band comfortable with its sound, from the raucous, manifesto-like "Join My Gang" to the aching heartbreak of "Born To Believe In You." Remarkably, things only get better from there, as the tracks from the follow-up albumsNative Sons (1984), State Of Our Union (1985), and Two Fisted Tales (1987)show. The State Of Our Union tracks are especially strong, with "Looking For Lewis And Clark" a standout among the group's many should-have-been hits. The failure of Two Fisted Tales did the group inin the liner notes, leader Sid Griffin recounts disembarking from a European tour on the same plane as Guns 'N Roses and Cinderella and knowing the jig is upwhich is too bad. The songs from that album (and the excellent, previously unreleased demos collected here) find the group refining its sound into something that, had it found its audience, could have remained viable for a long time. That didn't happen, but while it faded away too soon, The Long Ryders' music sounds essential today.