Big Sound 1978 / Rave On 2019
Two dozens prime cuts from obscure Connecticut rock ‘n’ rollers with all the right connections: their entire output including unreleased record with Mick Ronson on.
“All the animals on this earth have a pedigree. and I know that somewhere out there, there is one for me”: here’s a line from this ensemble’s first album that could say it all if anybody cared to listen and embrace the American band’s vigorous delivery, remarkable songwriting and the players’ lineage. Well, at least one person, an Englishman nicknamed Ronno, paid attention and was impressed enough to offer his guitar services to Roger C. Reale’s collective only to see their second record shelved and forgotten. Thus, a year down the line from the group’s 1978 debut, everything went down the drain, with only a sole LP to show for the musicians’ labors because the tapes remained in the label owner’s possession for nigh on 40 years.
Still, that platter hasn’t aged a little bit, and “Radioactive” remains infectious. It catches the ear from the start, as the mix of guitar jangle and riffage on opener “High Society” – propelled by Hilly Boy Michaels’ powerful drumming and Reale’s bass, and embroidered with country undercurrent – is simply irresistible as the quartet’s punk vigor is compromised by melodic effervescence to infuse the likes of “Pain Killer” with a lot of fun. While “Kill Me” has a sharp edge, speeding to the limit in 1’12”, there’s disco groove to “Stop And Go” to reveal the soft side of the foursome’s seeming aggro that would evaporate when their stomping, clapping and shouting take the action outside, where the kicks of “Inside Outside” rage on, yet the slightly glacial “Reach For The Sky” can be the best example of the band’s readiness for the cosmic ’80s.
If the U.K.-only cut “Close Inspection” (with Jimmy McAllister handling six strings instead of G. E. Smith) tosses the group’s ’60s influence into the future too, their choice of covers – including the fierce reading of Fontella Bass’ “Rescue Me” and the frenetic take on Chuck Berry’s “Dear Dad” – anchors the combo to the past. It was quite a solid position, one defining their next move. The first album’s title track, a tight and tasty cut of an almost orchestral scope, landed on the band’s sophomore effort, “Reptiles In Motion” – the aforementioned, previously unissued record – that’s generously smeared with Ronson’s easily recognizable licks restraining the results from “She’s Older Now” on to politically charged, if ever uproarious, “Rock It To The Kremlin” to amplify their punch.
It also allowed more space for Roger’s voice to add fresh nuances to his erstwhile booming and make the otherwise dry “No Secrets” rather arresting. Reale might let it loose on the Diddley-beat-driven “Debutante Ball” or rock and roll recklessly on “Pros And Cons” – a true-to-life aural slice of the ensemble’s existence – but the multi-layered “Make It Be Over” is tapping into the “Young Dudes” anthemic heart. More so, had “Point Blank” been out there and then, this number could have given Joe Strummer and Pete Shelley a run for their money, and the tuneful rumble of the angst-less “Living In Anger” should have been a hit, yet the recordings were destined to marinate in oblivion for four decades – until now.
Although Smith became an MD for “Saturday Night Live” and Bob Dylan, and Reale placed his songs on Buddy Guy and Johnny Winter’s Grammy-nominated albums, they still wanted those old tapes to see the light of day. “I could escalate it, or remain frustrated – got to give it one more try”: here’s another line Roger lived by, because his recent attempt to get hold of the ensemble’s legacy turned out to be a success. It was worth the wait, as it’s still relevant; it’s a piece of history to rule, not rue, the day.