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"I sleep with angels
But devils wake me up
And remind me of all the wicked little things
That torture us all with curiosity."
Released in the early 1990s, when R&B, Hip-Hop and Grunge ruled the airwaves and conquered the top of the charts, The Grays’ eclectic Ro Sham Bo was so out of step with commercial trends, it received only moderate airplay and consequently fell under the radar (much like Jellyfish’s Spilt Milk). One of the great lost Alternative Rock/Power Pop albums of its time, it was destined for obscurity, which is where it has lingered ever since.
The Grays were comprised of four very talented musicians and singer/songwriters: Dan McCarroll (drums), Buddy Judge (vocals, guitars), multi-instrumentalists Jon Brion (vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards) and Jason Falkner (vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards). Each band member wrote four or five songs for Ro Sham Bo -– except for the drummer, who only co-wrote one song –- upon which they fleshed out these song sketches together in the studio. During the recording sessions each band member wouldn’t necessarily play his own main instrument; sometimes they would switch to each other’s instruments in order to achieve a more impulsive, less polished sound, which infused the music with a certain dynamic and a sense of excitement -– often with interesting twists, turns and tempo-shifts. But as spontaneous and unforced as Ro Sham Bo sounds, the elaborate song structures, instrumentation, and arrangements (multi-layered guitars) bear witness to an unmistakably ambitious band with a meticulous work ethic.
Produced by Grammy Award-winning Jack Joseph Puig (Jellyfish, Tonic, etc.), Ro Sham Bo contains one hook-laden, late-Beatles-esque melody after another, albeit with a distinctly tougher edge and a more contemporary feel. The first single released from Ro Sham Bo was Very Best Years, a seductively catchy song that would have most likely been a relatively big hit in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s –- but it wasn’t meant to be in 1994; it was simply fifteen years (or so) too late. Equally infectiously melodic is Both Belong, a spirited acoustic guitar-based Folk-Pop song. Everybody’s World and Not Long For This World are Psychedelic-tinged compositions overflowing with crunchy, grungy, distorted electric guitars, heavy bass, and backwards vocals, while Same Thing and Oh Well Maybe are punchy, impassioned Power Pop songs.
The slower, more contemplative tracks on Ro Sham Bo are first-rate, too, whether it be the memorable Friend Of Mine, the rhythmically-charged, percussion-driven No One Can Hurt Me, or the dark and intense Spooky. Despite the presence of all of four songwriters, the album is remarkably coherent and accomplished. Ro Sham Bo is long overdue for a reappraisal.