(Kelly Ravin Music, CD)
The collective mellow of Vermont’s ever-wiggly groove scene was unceremoniously harshed earlier this year when sun-kissed jam-pop trio Lucy Vincent abruptly called it quits. The group had a strong following, both in their native Martha’s Vineyard and their adopted homeport of Burlington. They were also ardent road warriors, touring frequently. Upon their breakup, the rumor mill pointed to the ever-ubiquitous “artistic differences” as a prime motivator. With his debut EP Barbed Wire, guitarist Kelly Ravin is the first to emerge from the LV ashes and does his best to lend credence to that claim.
The disc begins with the hothouse-tinged “City Girls.” The tune’s bouncy blues rhythm sets the tone early on and serves notice that this is definitely not a Lucy Vincent album. The interplay between acoustic and electric guitars — both played by Ravin — are a nice touch. Although something goes amiss about midway through the track as the acoustic fails to lock in with the lead guitar — overdub foible, perhaps? The result is grating and detracts from an otherwise fine opener.
Ravin is a gifted singer. However, he is occasionally guilty of employing overwrought ornamental vocal flourishes. He’s at his most engaging when he simply lets the natural expressiveness of his voice shine through. And nowhere is that clearer than on “Old Dawg,” the EP’s standout track. A deceptively pretty melody provides the foundation for deceptively dark lyrics. Sparse instrumental makeup adds to the tune’s chilling starkness. Ravin executes a tastefully understated vocal performance.
“So So Sorry” follows and is a pleasing little love song. Again, the tune’s nicer moments are when Ravin lays back and trusts in his reedy croon and smart lyrics to deliver the message.
The remainder of the disc is somewhat hit or miss. “Those Days” is a solid ballad. But Ravin’s faux blues delivery on the following number, “In My Past,” sounds unnatural and forced. The rootsy “Tired and Tested” is a slow-burning stunner and offers his finest lyrical work. But the title cut closing the EP feels strangely out of place. Here, Ravin’s voice is doubled. It’s the only instance in which he employs the oft-overused studio trick, and the result is flat and listless.
Ultimately, Barbed Wire is a strong solo debut and casts Ravin in a grittier light than did his previous work with feel-good popsters Lucy Vincent — though fans of that band will still find a lot to like about his new direction.
Kelly Ravin performs Wednesday, September 10, at the Monkey House in Winooski with his “other” band, Cannon Fodder.