- Kelly Ravin, Ditches
(Self-released, digital download)
Contrary to that old cliché about death and taxes, not all of life's constants are unpleasant. For example, either Vermont alt-country mainstay Kelly Ravin has made it a mission to release a full-length LP every year or his natural creative proclivity just works out that way. While so many modern artists worry about the changing industry, Ravin sticks to a mold that has served him well: Write like hell, make a record, go out and play the songs on the road, repeat.
Of course, it wouldn't work if the singer-songwriter/guitar slinger didn't keep delivering the goods. On his latest effort, Ditches, Ravin has once again presented a collection of idiosyncratic country-rock jams that neatly showcase his evolution as a songwriter. "Leo" opens the record with a literal "Fuck, yeah" before Ravin's signature drawling hooks kick in and the album is off.
Ravin specializes in a specific type of song. There's no direct term, but he seems adept at writing "get your shit together" kinds of tunes, whether directed at himself or any of his characters. "Catch a Clue" is one of his finer entries in this series. Over a jaunty progression built on shimmering acoustic guitar work, Ravin sings, "Sometimes when a fight breaks out at a bar and it involves you / will you change your ways and catch a clue?" It's an anthem for figuring out the problem is you.
Ravin loves writing in metaphors, the more down-home the better. Again, it might all fall flat if he didn't write such earworm melodies and sing with a type of authority that tells you he actually has been down all these roads he's singing about — not to mention some of the ditches. The title track is just such a number.
Following the crack of what I assume is a Pabst Blue Ribbon opening, gorgeous pedal-steel-infused passages augment Ravin's almost fatherly advice — to paraphrase: Keep your life between the ditches; stay on the road. If there's a worry about Ravin's life lessons overpowering the songs, just wait until he uncorks a filthy guitar solo and worry no more.
"Voices Talking to Me" should be all over the airwaves, as well as "Break My Stride." Ditches suffers no shortage of great songs, but if there is a complaint, it's that the space between the album and 2017's excellent Engine isn't very far. One could argue that if someone has a craft down to a science, they shouldn't change it. Music isn't a science, however, and Ravin's talent all but demands growth. As good as the record is — as good as the last four records have been — part of me wants him to be less comfortable sooner or later.
Nonetheless, Ditches delivers everything one could want in a Kelly Ravin record. It's available now at kellyravinmusic.com. Catch Ravin with his all-star alt-country outfit the Welterweights on Tuesday, January 15, during the band's weekly residency at Hatch 31 in Bristol. The band also opens for Bloodshot Bill on Friday, January 11, at Nectar's in Burlington.