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MERCURY 5853; MAY 1952



And then there are THESE guys…

Like their brethren The Orioles who dominated the Nineteen Forties rock vocal group scene only to see their star begin to dim as the Fifties dawned as they couldn’t – or wouldn’t – keep up with the rapid transformation of the style, we’re reaching the point where The Ravens also have a choice to make.

Adaption or Irrelevancy.

With this release they may not definitively state which route they’re taking, but let’s just say they’ve got their road maps out and compass set towards irrelevancy.


If It’s Wrong Or Right, I Gotta Go Where You Are
Truthfully if you were laying odds at this time a year ago, in the spring of 1951, on which of the two original bird groups was going to roll over in their nest and play dead, the smart bettors would’ve put their money on The Orioles since they’d rarely shown an inclination towards deviating from their tried and true approach before.

Yet since last summer they’ve done just that, a turnaround of epic proportions when it came to exploring new sounds – at least new for them – which culminates in a great two sided release that we just looked at yesterday.

The Ravens, while even older than their fellow ornithological case study, had at least shown far more diversity in their style from the very beginning and with Jimmy Ricks had a lead singer who could be laid back and mellow or racy and deviant with equal aplomb.

But while they have delivered some good uptempo rockers over the past year or two, the stakes keep getting raised with each new act to come along and now that The Ravens are on Mercury, a more conservative major label, there’s no sign the group or the company itself is breaking their back in trying to appeal to younger rock fans who are fueling the movement today.

So what we get instead is the odd choice of Chloe-E, a song that bills itself as a “song of the swamp” which is appropriate since that’s where The Ravens dug this up, as it has been around since 1927 when it marked Ethel Waters’ debut on the Broadway stage.

In that respect it has an importance to Black America’s fight for equality in popular culture that’s admirable, but this is not 1927, it’s 1952 and the strides made SINCE then have made minstrel type songs like this not only passé but downright anachronistic.

Yet like many major labels, Mercury was about a quarter century behind the times when it came to such things and so we’re made to suffer through another attempt to turn back the clock even as it inches The Ravens ever closer to striking midnight on their careers as a viable rock act in the process.

If You Are Lost
While we can criticize the choice of this song as being a totally non-commercial offering for The Ravens all we like, there’s at least something unique about this which makes it more interesting than some more traditional pop material that Mercury otherwise might’ve saddled them with.

Let it also be said that the song was made for a deep voiced lead like Jimmy Ricks, so he’s certainly in his element here if nothing else.

But having gotten those oblique plaudits out of the way, let’s turn to the appropriateness of this as a rock song for a group in ever-increasing danger of sinking into the swamp lands, at least when it comes to notching more hits.

As intriguing as Chloe-E sounds during the extended lead-in with Ricky contributing the creeping wordless vocal refrain that sounds like it was pulled from a Halloween cartoon scene in a graveyard while the others add a somewhat ghostly harmony reply, the song proper once it starts is pretty distant from what a rock fan is used to – or interested in – and that’s the most important factor in keeping the group’s prospects afloat.

The theme itself isn’t bad… it’s simply a colorful way of a guy describing the lengths he’ll go to in order to be with the one he loves, and even the swamp references are rather murky and indistinct.

What’s not so hazy however is the style in which they sing the main part of the song, as the others are using that infernal open-throated delivery that takes the rough edges off their voices, while Ricky is also peddling this very softly, sure not to sound too ominous in the bargain.

As a result what might’ve been transformed into an eerie stalking tune, sort of a precursor to The Police doing Every Breath You Take, instead comes across as meaningless drivel from a guy who will gladly squish about in the muck and mire just to follow some dame around in a mosquito infested bayou.

I know, hardly the kind of tune you’d want to sing to entice your sweetheart into giving you a smooch in the dark.

Through The Smoke And Flames
Maybe this composition would’ve had more appeal if they’d thought to include a shining image of the girl to burn into our brain to justify this obsession.

But unfortunately she remains a mystery to us, and perhaps to Jimmy Ricks as well, for there’s also no sense of erotic desire for her in how he puts this across, nor even a sense of desperate longing for an ideal that might be entirely manufactured in his feverish brain – no doubt from the malaria he’s contracted in this quagmire while searching for Chloe-E

Instead we’re left with a rock group singing a song from the jazz age using too many pop techniques without any viable support from musicians who wisely stayed on dry land to avoid getting their ankles bitten off by alligators.

No wonder as a record it has no legs to stand on.

The only redeeming quality is that intoxicating opening which takes up the first minute and makes this worth hearing once for that alone.

But like any swamp if you stay in longer than that, you’re bound to sink to the bottom.


(Visit the Artist page of The Ravens for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)