THE RAVYNS – History Repeats Itself

ravynsThe Ravyns were a power pop band from Baltimore arguably best known for their single ‘Raised on the Radio’ featured in the Cameron Crowe written movie Fast Times At Ridgemont High in 1982.  A full album was released a year later, but further success eluded the band.  Following their split, frontman Kyf Brewer achieved further cult success as a member of hard rock troupe Company of Wolves before venturing on to a hugely overlooked solo career.

In their wake, there were forty or so Ravyns recordings that remained unreleased, existing only in demo form. In 2013, members of the band got together and sifted through the various tapes and decided that some of  the songs were just too good to go unheard.  Picking their favourites, eleven unreleased Ravyns tracks got dusted down and re-recorded with the full production sound they so deserved.  ‘History Repeats Itself’ is the result.

The title track is perhaps the closest this collection comes to rekindling the old eighties spirit, with an arrangement that rattles along with a joyous, pumping bass embellished by rolling piano.  A smooth backing harmony gives the suggestion that this tune has the air of Jackson Browne rocking out just a touch, while Kyf Brewer’s slightly drawled lead voice tips the hat to the new wave.  A combination of radio friendliness mixed with a quirky middle eight and crunchy lead guitar makes this an instant winner.  With a chiming guitar and buoyant rhythm section, ‘She’s Such a Drag’ is classic power pop – typical of the era in which it was written – capturing guitarist Rob Fahey throwing out some terrific ringing sounds before launching into a wholly melodic solo.  Fans of the style – particularly the works of The Rubinoos et al – will find an instant love for this.  Although its title may suggest a touch of crassness, the stomping ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Bitches’ is a loving homage to The Stones mid 70s  The chiming guitars straddle a sound that’s somewhere between Mott The Hoople and The Faces, while Brewer’s lead voice chews each line with a deserving sneer.  For extra all-round Stones-ness, there’s a twangy lead break that careens off-course in a manner of someone nicely toasted, while an old-time rock ‘n’ roll piano adds to the bar-room flair.  Never essential, but certainly good fun.

Adopting a spiky rhythm, ‘Penny Tight’ showcases Fahey’s Springsteen-esque rasp, while the rest of the band give his gruff vocal style a tight musical send off.  Again, it’s all about those rhythm guitars, here churning out staccato chords before finding an equally melodic groove in a more pub-rock style, over which Brewer throws out a lovingly reckless piano.  Armed with another simplistic but instantly memorable hook, a barrage of backing vocals and yet another careening guitar solo, The Ravyns really hit their stride.  Teasing with a choir of vocals befitting of Jeff Lynne – although without the studio filtering – the sun-filled ‘Just Like You’ further presents the band’s credentials for classic AM radio pop; influences from The Cars colour more of their typical power pop to great effect.  Hearing this for the first time will leave you wondering how clueless major record labels can be: in the early 80s, this should have had a ready-made audience…

Weaker than the rest of the material, ‘Oh Nakia’ comes across as a little clumsy. It has a strong melody once it hits the chorus hook and twin lead guitars filling the middle section are certainly well played, but it seems somewhat cumbersome before reaching that climax.  A tune so heavily reliant on choppy, staccato guitars certainly needs to be tackled a mite faster.  Likewise, the new-wavish ‘Like Her So’ misses the mark a little: again, there’s a strong musical foundation here, but the eighties arrangement doesn’t especially suit such a seventies style vocal.  As with ‘Oh Nakia’, some of the lead guitars lift things considerably, but a one-line chorus brings this number crashing back to earth.  Neither of these tunes are awful – not by any stretch – but they’re certainly lacking The Ravyns’ usual flair.   Taking the trashy rock element of their sound and cranking it to the max, ‘Rampage’ is worthy of twenty-first century rockers Watts with it’s shouty gang vocals – with Fahey really coming to his own – and cranked guitars.  You’ll have heard this kind of rock time and again, but the sense of fun in the Ravyns’ performances really come across.  Maybe it’s a sense of letting off steam with the thought of those passing years; whatever, it’s easy to imagine this tune being a stormer in a live setting.

The band cherry picked their favourite unreleased numbers from the various dusty tapes, and for the most part, it appears they picked well.  Nine of these eleven tracks stand strongly; each one a loving memo to a musical past, a note to a friend about what could – and should – have been.  History may not have been as kind to The Ravyns as perhaps they deserved, but at least we got these great songs eventually.  Do yourselves a favour…grab this disc. Don’t let these songs slip away a second time.

March/April 2015