(Bacchus Archives, CD)
Back in the early '60s, Mike & the Ravens wowed audiences in Vermont and upstate New York with their rugged rock 'n' roll and boyish charms. In an era when performers rarely played their own tunes, these five young gents wrote and performed all original music -- talk about enterprising. A popular attraction at roller rinks, Ivy League colleges and town halls throughout the region, the band seemed destined for bigger things.
Unfortunately, a harmless juvenile prank put an end to their musical dreams. As legend has it, the group was busted for throwing a late-night DJ party in a Lamoille County church and the members were subsequently shipped off to separate colleges. Before the curtain fell, the group recorded a surprising number of singles, many of which comprise the 41 original cuts on Nevermore. Now, after more than four decades, the Ravens can reclaim their throne as the rightful kings of North Country rock 'n' roll.
This two-CD set represents something of a Grail for early rock and garage-music enthusiasts. The first disc showcases a fresh band bashing through wicked little tunes that are as fun as they are catchy. Singer Mike Brassard was a rare vocal talent, capable of delivering fiery rock sermons as well as tender ballads. The exquisite "Mr. Heartbreak" straddles the line between both styles. Although there's a bad-boy, Gene Vincent influence in Brassard's delivery, his baritone croon suggests a wronged Romeo who just needs a little love.
"Everybody's Goin' to Rollerland" is the Ravens' loving tribute to the Plattsburgh skate rink where the group often played. Although the song's recording quality is extremely lo-fi, its message of youthful fun comes through loud and clear. Guitarist Stephen Blodgett's saucy riffs on "Two Ton Jenny" pack a pre-Stones wallop, while Brassard's whooping catcalls make clear rock 'n' roll's lusty origins.
Disc two features Brassard and Blodgett's later work, much of which leans toward the psychedelic. It also features a few brand-new tunes recorded in 2004 by a reformed Ravens. Amazingly, they're all pretty good, particularly the haunting "No Love to Give You."
The fact that Mike & the Ravens were around a few years before The Beatles conquered America makes me wonder how things might've turned out had they not disbanded. Could these young men have mounted a successful defense against the British Invasion? The lost gems on Nevermore make the notion seem entirely possible.