Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Raging Fire: "These Teeth Are Sharp" (2017) CD Review

In the mid-1980s, Raging Fire was formed in Nashville, the band originally going by the name Ring Of Fire. The band released one LP in that decade, Faith Love Was Made Of, and then by 1990 broke up. Fortunately, their story did not end there. A compilation of their material, Everything Is Roses 1985-1989, was released in 2015, a few years after the death of guitarist Michael Godsey (Godsey and Mark Medley started going through the old recordings in 2012 with the idea of putting together that compilation). To celebrate that release, the band reunited for a show, and that show got the band going again. And in May of this year, the band put out its first new album in thirty years. The CD, These Teeth Are Sharp, is dedicated to Michael Godsey (and to Jim Ridley, a fan of the band). Some of the songs on this disc were written early in the band's career, songs that were not recorded before (as well as two that were recorded before and included on the band's first album), while others are new. The lineup for this album includes founding members Melora Zaner, Mark Medley and Les Shields, as well as John Reed and Rusty Watkins, both of whom played in the band in the 1980s. Joining them are Joe Blanton and Jeff Cease on guitar, and Giles Reaves on keys.
The album kicks off with its title track, "These Teeth Are Sharp," a song from early in the band's existence, one with very cool vibe, a rock sound with some country elements and a punk attitude and energy, particularly heard in Melora Zaner's vocal delivery. And it's this combination of sounds and vibes that got me excited about this CD. There is also some delicious work on guitar. This song is a great start to the album, and features some interesting lyrics. "Maybe there's only one way out/One way out of this life of pain/One more flash, and the pain is gone." And I love that moment where Melora delivers the title line a cappella. That's followed by "A Narrow Sky," a song that was originally recorded for and included on the band's first album, Faith Love Was Made Of. This song is a good dose of rock and roll. "Do you know the feeling when the air closes in/As quiet as the grave/Well, it's a narrow sky here in Tennessee, babe/It takes much tolerance."

The only cover on this CD is "Walking The Dog," the Rufus Thomas song that for a while every band seemed to cover. But I hadn't heard a new version in a while, and the only female singer I can think of offhand that tackled it is Sandie Shaw, back in the 1960s. This version by Raging Fire has a cool, slow groove, and Melora Zaner delivers the lines with a cute girlishness, even a teasing whisper. It's a damn good rendition, no question. (And hey, this song is perfect for today, as it mentions the fourth of July in its lyrics.) That's followed by "After Loving One Man From East Texas," a song that was originally included on the band's first album. The version here is quite different. It is more of a rock tune, and contains hints of The Cramps, right? In the music, not the vocals. Anyway, this is one of my favorite tracks, and Melora's delivery is full of attitude. I love the original version too, but the direction the band took the song on this album is bloody brilliant, and it features some catchy work on guitar.

And then suddenly Raging Fire gives us a ridiculously positive pop tune, "Free To Be," which is absolutely wonderful, and certainly needed these days when things seem to be going wrong in all sorts of ways. Here are the opening lines: "Such a beautiful day/I'm so unafraid/Blue skies above/I'm so full of love." And here are some lyrics you might appreciate: "I'm free to be/In control of my own destiny/You see, that's the way it has to be/For you and me." Indeed. We need a bit of reminding now and again, don't we? "Free To Be" is followed by "Hush Angel Blue," a song that was included on Everything Is Roses. It's the only live track on that compilation, and on that disc is titled "Angel A Blue," though you can hear Melora introduce the song as "Hush Angel A Blue." It was recorded in 1989, and the sound quality of that live recording isn't perfect, so it's great to have this new clear version, particularly as it's a really good song.

But perhaps my favorite song is "Hopeful While In Bed." Certainly, it has my favorite title of any song on this album. Something about this song has dug its way into my brain and made a home for itself in there. Part of it is Melora Zaner's vocal performance, which is nuanced and intriguing. But there is also something familiar about the groove of this song, something that pulls me in. It's a wonderful song. "Curse this house and curse this home/Dream about living alone." "Raindances" then has the most straightforward rock sound of the album. And the disc concludes with "Dreams From Under The Love Seat," which of course has my second favorite title. "Dreams you might forget in a week/Who can we ask and who might know/If dreams stay in your head, then where do they go?"

CD Track List
  1. These Teeth Are Sharp
  2. A Narrow Sky
  3. Walking The Dog
  4. After Loving One Man From East Texas
  5. Free To Be
  6. Hush Angel Blue
  7. Hopeful While In Bed
  8. Raindances
  9. Dreams From Under The Love Seat
These Teeth Are Sharp was released on May 12, 2017. Let's hope there is more to come from this band.

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