Mike & The Ravens – No Place For Pretty (2009)

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by Pico

You know, it’s funny how making a record can be so quickly habit-forming for some. Here we have the early sixties regional garage band Mike And the Ravens who make a proper debut album about 48 years after they had formed. That’s right, folks, as in a few years short of half a century. And as we noted in August of last year, Noisy Boys! The Saxony Sessions didn’t disappoint, delivering an album that literally screamed youth from a bunch of hearty, social security check-collecting old farts. Fast forward to today, less than 13 months later after the release of that long-awaited record, and we are already witnessing the arrival of their follow-up.

Not that even a year was needed to tape this platter. No Place For Pretty, as album #2 is called, is as rough and ready as #1, and with the old fashioned, unvarnished approach to recording that these ol’ boys favor, there wasn’t going to be a lot of hassling with the finer points of 21st century production techniques. As before, lead guitarist Bo Bladgett, rhythm guitarist/organist Steve Blodgett, bassist Brian Lyford and drummer Peter Young laid down the instrumental beds live in the studio directly to 16 track one inch analog tape. Lead vocalist Mike Brassard came in the studio the following month and with the backing singing help of his bandmates, laid down the vocal tracks.

Truth is, the follow-up came so quickly because of cancelled plans to tour behind Noisy Boys due to effects of some neurological damage Brassard has suffered that left the left side of his face paralyzed. He has been bravely confronting this condition triggered by the sudden loss of a good friend a few years back and has doggedly fought long odds to just talk without a slur again, much less sing. His tale of persistence and perseverance could make a compelling topic all its own, but one of the most compelling things about it is the continued revival of the band that contains his name.

So, Brassard wasn’t ready for the rigors of touring but had regained and retained the ability belt ’em out in the studio. Furthermore, the guys still had a stash of old songs ready to put to tape, as well as a batch of news ones cooked up by Steve Blodgett, and just like that, the Ravens were back in business. Within this pretty narrow genre, the Raven still manage to give each song its own colorful character, and No Place For Pretty doesn’t suffer from the sophomore curse of running short of the abundance of ideas an act puts out on their first record.

“Keys To The Car” has a popping baseline and a classic sixties rock guitar lead, but Brassard’s Kim Wilson vocal stylings and the street tough vibe still recalls The Fabulous Thunderbirds, even though it’s not blues. The stomping “One Of These Days” grabs your attention with the call-and-response chants between Brassard and the rest of the band.

“Riptide” is a surf rock instrumental written by Bo Blodgett that’s modeled after the surf music the Ravens dug when they were doing club dates around upstate New York in the early sixties. Here, Blodgett channels Link Wray just like he probably did back then. For “Broken Boy,” Blodgett puts a violin bow to his guitar that emits a harrowing sound. “Steelhead” is heavy on the fuzz guitar and hard on the jungle beat. “Sister Raeven” with its catchy melody and Johnny Cash shuffle makes this the best track of the batch.

I don’t have the official running time of this CD, but with ten songs and most of them running at three minutes or less, it can’t be much more than half an hour. That’s a mite short by today’s standards. I already know what the Ravens would say to that, though: they don’t give a rat’s behind about today’s standards. No Place For Pretty serves just fine as a second reminder about the concession-free energy of frat rock delivered by the genuine article. This one’s just a smidgen tamer than Noisy Boys but Mike And The Ravens are still guzzling from the fountain of youth.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron

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