By Eleni P. Austin
“Reunited and it feels so good
reunited cause we understood
there’s one perfect fit, and sugar
this one is it. We both are so excited
cause we’re reunited, hey, hey.”
Of course, that’s the R&B duo, Peaches & Herb, rhapsodizing about their romantic rapprochement on their 1979 hit, but it’s also a refrain that’s been running around my brain since I heard that one of my favorite ‘80s bands, The Rave-Ups got back together and recorded a new album, Tomorrow.
Along with progenitors like Jason & The Scorchers and Rank + File, The Rave-Ups fused Country and Punk, creating a hybrid sound labeled CowPunk. I first heard of the band in 1986 when they appeared in the John Hughes teen angst dramedy, Pretty In Pink. They performed two of their signature tracks, “Positively Lost Me” and “Rave-Up/Shut-Up,” and I was immediately hooked.
By then The Rave-Ups had been a going concern for at least five years. Guitarist and front man Jimmer Podrasky had already cycled through several iterations in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pa., but the line-up truly coalesced once he hit L.A. and partnered with bassist Tommy Blatnik, drummer Timothy Jimenez and guitarist Terry Wilson.
The band had signed with the indie label Fun Stuff, and all four had secured gainful employment in the mail room of A&M Records. Upon completion of their 9-5 duties, the guys often stuck around, honing their songs on A&M’s historic Hollywood lot (which originally housed Charlie Chaplin’s film studio).
Their sound was a sharp amalgam of Country, Rock, Punk, Folk and Pop. They quickly made a name for themselves in the thriving L.A. club scene. Early and ardent fans were actress Molly Ringwald and her sister Beth. In fact, the latter began dating Jimmer. It was Molly who convinced John Hughes to have the band perform in Pretty In Pink.
Their first long-player, Town + Country arrived in 1985 and immediately received airplay on L.A.’s taste-making radio station, KROQ, as well as college and alternative stations across the country. The record sold an astonishing 40,000 copies, no mean feat for a small label.
Even as their star was ascending, the guys kept their day jobs. Pretty… was released in theaters, along with a soundtrack from A&M. Although the Psychedelic Furs, Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark, Susan Vega, Joe Jackson and the Smiths made memorable contributions, the rest of the album was swathed in lackluster Synth-Pop. Curiously, The Rave-Ups didn’t make the cut.
That irony wasn’t lost on the band (as they mailed out promo material for the soundtrack from the A&M mail room), nor their growing fan base, or local music critics who began championing The Rave-Ups’ cause.
Luckily, other labels took notice, once they had extricated themselves from Fun Stuff, they signed with Epic Records (home to Michael Jackson and Stevie Ray Vaughan, among others). Although they released two stellar records, 1988’s Book Of Your Regrets and 1990’s Chance (named for Jimmer and Beth’s infant son who is pictured on the cover), the label somehow couldn’t figure out how to market the band they had so recently pursued and signed.
Both records were muscular, propulsive and hook-driven. Each one combined Punk, Roots Rock, Country and a hint of Psychedelia. Critically, they both killed, commercially, they sunk without a trace. The band called it quits following a performance on television’s teen telenovela, Beverly Hills 90210.
In the ensuing years, Tommy, Tim and Terry toggled between playing in bands and working in the film and television industry. Jimmer began collaborating with ex-Concrete Blonde drummer Harry Rushakoff and former Agent Orange bassist Sam Bowles as The Lovin’ Miserys. Their one album remains unreleased.
Jimmer stepped away from the music business to raise his son as a single parent. He had a regular day job, but he never stopped writing songs. By 2013, he released his solo debut, The Would-Be Plans followed by other critically acclaimed efforts like 2017’s God Like The Sun, 2019’s Almost Home and the Shoulder To Cry On EP, a collaboration with everybody’s favorite sui generis chanteuse, Syd Straw.
The Rave-Ups have occasionally reunited over the years for live shows, most recently in 2016 to celebrate an expanded reissue of Town + Country. Terry has stealthily contributed to Jimmer’s solo oeuvre these last few years and while working on a track called Violets On A Hill, they decided to rope Tim and Tommy into the session. The song began to feel less like a solo effort and more like a full-fledged Rave-Up reunion. Thus, their fourth LP, Tomorrow, was born.
The album kicks into gear with a hiccough-y drum salvo and hard-charging guitars on “So You Wanna Know The Truth.” Cantilevered banjo notes ping-pong through the mix, accented by wily bass lines and sugar rush guitar. Jimmer’s elastic tenor sounds as brash and impish as it did 35 years ago. Trenchant lyrics like “You wanna know the difference between red and blue, problem is you’re colorblind and what you see is moot, and the red you see is blue and you still wanna know the truth,” speak to the deep ideological and political divide that has this country by the short hairs. When logic and reason doesn’t cut it, Terry delivers a rip-snortin’ guitar solo that walks the line between blistering Rockabilly and brazen Punk Rock, subsequently quashing any further debate.
Although he never received the same acclaim that Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, John Mellencamp or Steve Earle received, Jimmer has always been a gifted raconteur. Beginning with songs like “Positively Lost Me,” through “Sue & Sonny” and “Watching Out For Jesus,” back in the ‘80s, he always managed to spin a compelling yarn. That tradition continues here on “Roll,” “When I Write Your Name” and “Coming After Me.”
Wistful harmonica notes and cascading guitar riffs lattice over tensile bass lines and a kick-drum beat on “Roll.” A sweet mid-tempo groover, it tells the story of Rosie and Joey, a couple of strivers on parallel paths, trying to achieve the American dream; “Rosie wasn’t too good at much of anything, just wants to be famous any way she can,” meanwhile “Joey isn’t a bad guy, he just got dealt a bad hand, he just wants to get money any way that he can.” A cross harp shadows the sweet chorus and when the pair hook-up, the circumstances are less than auspicious; “The night they met at a bar around the way, she was lit, he was pissed, talked about, thrown away, nobody there saw any sparks, by the way/But by 2, they just rolled out the door, just okay, they were just okay.” Feathery pedal steel is matched by homespun harmonica and sparkly guitars on the break, as Rosie and Joey pursue their aspirations together.
“…..Write Your Name” opens with bramble-thick guitars, wailing harmonica, scuffling bass and a chunky back-beat. Jimmer’s vocals are suffused with bitterness and regret, mirroring lyrics that evince a bad case of post break-up, child-support check Blues; “Can’t you see…this long, lovin’ war of ours cannot be won? Wake up, baby, this is our Vietnam, I write your name on every check, once every month, like you know what/Tell me what is left, when I write your name? Tell me what is left, when I write your name?” Gritty, gutbucket guitar and howling harmonica echo each of Jimmer’s grievances like a wordless Greek chorus, amplifying his animosity and indignation. The willowy melody and arrangement on “….After Me” belies a bleak narrative: that time Jimmer spent three days in a mental institution. His high lonesome harmonica partners with pensive pedal steel, chiming guitars, spidery bass and a shuffle rhythm. His sunny tenor summons a grim scenario; “Welcome to the real world, Buddy, that chair’s gonna be your bed, that floor’s gonna be your playground, your heart is gonna be your head.” Molasses-sweet guitars tangle with winsome pedal steel and keening harmonica on the break.
This record is dazzling from start to finish, but three tracks stand out from the pack. Clangorous guitars (that recall The Clash’s version of “Police On My Back”) careen out of the speakers on the incendiary “How Old Am I.” The squally, siren-esque riff-age rides roughshod over percolating bass lines, swoopy pedal steel and a breakneck beat. The lyrics briefly tackle themes of religious hypocrisy and intolerance, filtered through the lens of a fragile father/son relationship; “How in God’s name can you profess in God’s name, man? ‘How old am I,’ he said, just one look and he was dead.” Addressing his elderly dad, Jimmer navigates the older man’s precarious grasp on reality; “Things are funny today dad, I got nothing to say but thanks, now when you dance it’s on two good legs and when you see, it’s like yesterday.” On the break, sun-dappled pedal steel is supplanted by jagged rhythm riffs, splayed lead guitar and a locomotive beat.
Co-written by Terry and Amy Glassberg Hobgood, “The Dream Of California” was written as a response to Chance Podrasky’s wish to move back the Golden State. Double-tracked shang-a-lang guitars are matched by lithe bass lines, a thunky beat and honeyed harmonies. Yearning to return to the land of milk and honey, lyrics linger on the sunshiny sensations; “I can’t help wondering about the way it used to be, I hope it means as much to you as it does to it does me, I need a sunny soul revival, golden light all in my eyes/I can’t wait…I dream of California, I can’t wait to get back to my home, I got Cal, I got Cali, I got California on my mind.”
Finally, “Brigette Bardot” paints a puckish portrait of unrequited love. Finger-pickin’-good guitars are bookended by slash-y rhythm riffs, angular bass and a slapdash beat. Jimmer’s yelp-y vocals unfurl a sad-sack saga of unrequited love; “Outside the window I can see her parking her coffee-colored S.U.V., But from the car I see a neighbor walking, it’s just the gay guy down the street/It’s late and she won’t care if I’m alone as I sit by the telephone, I wonder if I’ll ever really know her… my friends are all a bit concerned, they say her bark is worse than her bite, but they don’t have to know her, oh shit, oh no, oh no, Brigette Bardot.” As the arrangement accelerates around the melody’s hairpin curves, it shapeshifts into something of a shambolic Psychedelic hoedown. Snarly guitars collide with stutter-y bass lines, phased keys and a whipcrack beat on the break. Soon enough, Jimmer is strategizing a slightly less affectionate plan of attack; “I guess I’ll write an angry song about her, that’s number sixteen just this week, I should’ve stopped after a bakers’ dozen, but then again I should just leave.”
Other interesting tracks include “She And He,” a smoky, mandolin flavored number that paints a dour picture of marital ennui. “Violets On The Hill,” is a twangy two-step that features intertwined banjo and guitar and galumphing bass tethered to a galloping gait. The bottleneck Blues of “Cry” offers a stinging rebuke aimed at the Cheeto-hued taint-stain who briefly occupied the Oval Office.
The record ends of a quiescent note with the title track. Fluttery guitars connect with searing pedal steel, loose-limbed bass and a tick-tock beat. The lyrics find Jimmer humble and hopeful (well, hopeful for him), checking off a to-do list that will hopefully bring a measure of contentment; “Tomorrow I’ll do the dishes, tomorrow I’ll pay the bills, tomorrow I’ll believe in Jesus, tomorrow I’ll find the answers, tomorrow always knows, tomorrow I’ll understand that/But today I feel just like the devil, man, he looks a lot to you like me.”
This glorious record was produced and engineered by Timothy and Terry, who also provided drums, percussion, and backing vocals, plus guitars harp, keys, cross harp, mandolin and backing vocals, respectively. Jimmer handled lead vocals, guitars and harmonica, and Tommy anchored the bottom on bass and backing vocals. Pedal steel player Marty Rifkin guested on three songs.
Front-to-back, start-to-finish, this record simply crackles with authority. The chemistry between Jimmer, Tommy, Tim and Terry remains electric; equal parts raucous, rebellious, ramshackle, crisp, caustic and concise. The Rave-Ups have pulled off the ultimate hat trick, the new songs are as potent as their earliest hits, but they manage to display a measure of wisdom and grace that only comes with age and life experience. Tomorrow is the first truly great record of 2022.