It was a long arduous day of extraordinary stress, including spending three hours on the freeway in traffic that would render a sardine claustrophobic. When I finally got home, all I wanted was to kick the dog, eat cold pizza and watch reruns of “The Iron Chef”. However, on my porch lay a pristine Fed-Ex package with the words that put a smile on my miserable puss, “Ray Soundtrack”.
Universal Pictures has released a biopic about the life and times of an American musical titan. His name was Ray Charles and his legacy is that he influenced countless entertainers and will do so for generations to come. After watching the trailer at the official website, it appears the storyline takes young Ray from the depths of poverty where he loses his vision at age seven; to the heights of musical achievement built upon a nearly supernatural gift of mental visualization. His abundant musical gifts were fueled this ability to envision and employ his highly evolved sense of hearing, as well understanding “mathematics and its correlation to music”.
In a brilliant soundtrack featuring a collection of the artist’s most famous songs, the listener is offered a glimpse of the musician’s development over a quarter century. “Mess Around” demonstrates a juke joint rhythm and blues approach that Ray developed playing local nightclubs across America; one that was later imitated by the likes of Stevie Wonder, Doctor John and Leon Russell. This sound culminates with “Night Time is the Right Time,” which is perfect snapshot of early sixties soul with screaming honk sax, relentlessly steady groove and edgy backing vocals.
The jazzier sound of Mr. Charles is displayed on a sizzling live version of “What I Say,” not only showcasing his trademark acoustic piano playing but also featuring a funky electric keyboard that sounds like it could have touched by the hands Ramsey Lewis or Joe Zawinul. The jazz approach is also exemplified on one of the finest pop rumbas ever recorded with “Unchain My Heart.” This song defines the coolest work performed by this genius, with superlative delineation of musical textures, prominently mixed female vocals and strategically peppered horn parts. The track separation on this song is simple, masterful and free from the pretension of overblown production.
Early on in his career, Ray apparently did a mean imitation of the great Nat King Cole. This influence is crystal clear upon listening to “Born to Lose,” a song that features a pop melody and lush string arrangement right out of the NKC playbook. This highly produced sixties methodology further evolves with “I Can’t Stop Loving You”, which though highly polished, remains abundantly soulful. By the time he recorded this one, Ray had a style that respectfully incorporated Cole while confidently displaying his own greatness.
Of course, no collection of Ray Charles would be complete without “Hit the Road Jack,” a song conjuring up the image of a woman scorned; one who kicks her man in the pants on the way out the door and then throws all his worldly possessions out the 2nd story window. I have a vivid recollection of me and my best friend pretending to be Brother Ray’s backup vocalists, singing this classic shuffle on the way home from grammar school. Now that’s what I call an influence on popular culture.
This retrospective soundtrack would also be incomplete without the artist’s signature song, “Georgia On My Mind.” While never my favorite, the folks who produced this record thought to include to the original studio version recorded in 1960 as well as an interesting if not slightly gospel version of this tune recorded live in Japan during a 1976 performance.
Today is Saturday and in my infinite laziness, I am paying someone to clean my home. During this time of brief urban exodus, I will spend my precious time attending the cinema. What will be my film of choice? The one I lay down the exorbitant sum of eight dollars to see? Why the answer of course is Team America. However, if this movie about politically incorrect marionettes fighting global terrorism turns out to be (pardon the pun) a bomb, then I might just sneak into another theatre to watch a movie about boy who climbed out of the wreckage of his own personal darkness to fashion the kind of artistic illumination that will forever be imprinted upon our collective consciousness.
The Ritualists – Painted People
The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music
After listening to Painted People by The Ritualists, I was very surprised to learn that this is their debut album. This band shows a maturity in their music that I would not expect from a first album and provides inspirational sounding tracks with ‘reach for the stars’ type of guitar riffs. I hear a modern version of U2 in The Ritualists, along with an influence of Radiohead. Their songs are full, wholehearted post-punk hooks with a lead singer that has a sizeable range.
“Rattles” opens the album, and it’s the type of song that shows their audience that they are here to stay. It has a great build-up of excitement and intensity. The band explains that this song is “A combination of dark, deep-pocketed verses juxtaposed with big, flashy choruses is a key element to tracks”.
“Ice Flower” and “Worthiest One” welcomes an electronic wave to the album and showcases just how impressive lead singer Christian Dryden’s range is. His ability to hit those high notes with such conviction puts my falsetto abilities to shame. “Worthiest One” brings this sort of nostalgic feeling- it’s a rock ballad with a floaty guitar riff.
“She’s The Sun” is a great follow-on from “Worthiest One” as it transfers the mood upwards and directs the music into more of a hypnotic vision, which conveys “the band’s inner Sixties Love Child”. “I’m With The Painted People” has a really relatable background to the song. Dryden felt a larger than life inspiration from people like David Bowie and Simon Le Bon, these artists felt like soulmates, which can be lonely at times. It wasn’t until he ventured out into the clubs of the lower east side of New York which helped him feel comfortable to express his creative vision freely. The song is all about finding like-minded people.
There are hooks galore and catchy choruses in pretty much every song. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. It’s almost like a higher form of communication.” The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music and Painted People shows hints of variations with different genres explored throughout. They sound motivated and in return have produced motivating music for their listeners.
The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk
It’s possible that since punk broke through to the mainstream in the mid to late ’90s, listeners outside of Australia think Frenzal Rhomb are the only band to have come from the lucky country. It’s true that during the rise of that Epitaph and Fat Wreck sound, Frenzal Rhomb became the namesake of the genre from Australia. However, Australian punks know that their history stretches long before the release of Survival of the Fattest. From the legendary sounds of The Saints to the rock n’ roll infused punk of Radio Birdman, Australia’s punk rock history is not only rich but very much precedes the genre’s mainstream explosion.
Frenzal Rhomb were another chapter in punk down under and for many, they opened a lot of doors. If not at the very least, proved that there were fertile grounds for new bands to emerge across the vast land. Western Australia’s The Decline formed in 2005 and quickly showed their talent for writing up-tempo melodicore that shred as much as it soared. From their 2010 debut, I’m Not Gonna Lie To You, it was clear that the band were equal parts snotty, urgent, funny, and melodic. Like the Frenzal Rhomb formula, they’ve got all of it in spades with a mean streak of Australianness that is both endearing and extremely relatable. Their latest album is no different.
From the title alone you can tell you’re in for a shedload of fun, and while it’s easy to think that Flash Gordon Ramsay Street is just goofy humor, it’s actually got a lot of pointed commentary too. From the animal-supportin’, veggie-lovin’, attack on meatlovers and meatheads (“Brovine”), to the real-estate market questioning “Smashed Avo”, there’s plenty of current talking points that The Decline run through. Sure, you also get vegan buffalo wing recipes (surprisingly, not the song titled “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”) and a love for The Legend of Zelda, but who says you can’t sing about Marxist theories while talking about your love for Nintendo?
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk; taking plenty of cues from the best of the NOFX / No Fun At All up-tempo, hardcore-derived brand of punk. The hooks on Flash Gordon Ramsey Street are as infectious as horny teens on spring break, highlighted by the endless harmonies on songs like the terrific “It Was Always You” and the call and response male-female vocal attack of “Verge Collection”. Brevity is also key, as the majority of the songs here never overstay their welcome with the longest clocking in at just 3:15 (the wistful closing of “Josh”).
Flash Gordon Ramsey Street is concise, to-the-point, and a furious medley of skate punk urgency that is relevant to young adult life as punks in Australia. Great production values to boot mean you can’t go wrong here.