Thursday, April 6, 2023

Ramatam - In April Came The Dawning Of The Red Suns (1973 us, good mixture of brass, roots, folk, classic rock, 2005 edition)

April Lawton's short rock & roll moment in the sun takes a better turn on Ramatam's second attempt, In April Came the Dawning of the Red Suns. Acoustic ramblings like "Excerpt From Guitar Concerto #1," where she plays solo for 44 seconds, are more inviting than much of what was on the group's self titled debut. Since her prowess was a big part of the hype, why those introspective glimpses weren't extended is the mystery. There's also a pretty interlude, "Rainy Sunday Evening," which comes between two awful moments on side one, "Betty Lou" and "I Can Only Love You," proving the previous point. A '50s-type vocal sound slips into this morass, and these two titles display the worst elements found when "experiencing" the band's first effort, despite the fact that only lead guitarist Lawton and Tommy Sullivan remain. 

With another Atlantic producer, Geoffrey Haslam, taking over from Tom Dowd and heavy string sections replacing the marquee talent former bandmates Mitch Mitchell and Mike Pinera brought to the table, the album has sparks that just never take off. Instrumental portions of "I Can Only Love You" have merit decimated by a god awful vocal from Sullivan, who sings much better on "The Land" and "Autumn Now," two songs that sound like Robbie Robertson and the Band jamming with America after some gig. The heavy orchestration -- 11 strings and eight horns -- conducted by Charles Gouse, brings a certain refinement to this rock band that live and in its earlier incarnation was an all-out assault. Haslam worked with artists and projects as diverse as the Velvet Underground's Loaded, the J. Geils Band, Bette Midler's The Divine Miss M, Delbert McClinton, and others, and he brings his polish to smooth out the rough edges -- but as the late Jimmy Miller used to say (paraphrased), "a big part of it is the talent you're given to work with." When a singer doesn't have that ability to get it across, you can end up with the dilemma facing Ramatam. 

The strength Haslam brought to the first J. Geils album, bringing it all together and letting it play out, is less-efficient here, though this is a vast improvement over Dowd's work on Ramatam's debut. If the first edition of this ensemble was a poor-man's supergroup, this version finds good production impeded in parts by Tommy Sullivan morphing into that poor-man's Jim Dandy from Black Oak Arkansas. Imagine Dandy attempting to sing to a boogie-woogie version of Cream's music and you'll understand the dilemma. "Stars and Stripes Forever" is a pointless exercise opening side two, but it leads into the shining moment, Lawton's pretty vocal supplemented by Bruce Morgenheim's violin on a song called "Bounty on My Table." That respite is knocked off the table with "Downrange Party," where the group seems to have their Jim Dandy persona clashing with the Jimi Hendrix Experience and some horns to boot -- dreadful. 

The one-minute "Free Fall" by Sullivan is as enticing as some of Lawton's creative spurts, and the fact that there is some magic that escaped this project is obvious. What was needed was the removal of the grating, pointless pseudo-Southern rock, replacing it with a psychedelic jam à la Iron Butterfly -- a band a former member belonged to. A good digital editor could actually cut and paste and come up with something very special if those involved were so inclined. Then a really special moment, like the '50s send-off "Rhinoceros," would have more punch.
by Joe Viglione
1. The Land/Rainy Sunday Evening - 6:21
2. Betty Lou - 4:00
3. I Can Only Love You - 5:44
4. Except From Guitar Concerto - 0:43
5. Autumn Now (April Lawton) - 3:58
6. Stars And Stripes Forever - 2:33
7. Bounty On My Table (John Philip Sousa) - 3:56
8. Downrange Party - 5:22
9. Free Fall - 0:52
10.Push A Little - 5:16
11.Rhinoceros (April Lawton, Tommy Sullivan, Jimmy Walker) - 3:30 
All compositions by April Lawton, Tommy Sullivan except where indicated

The Ramatam
*April Lawton - Bass, Guitar, Harmonica, Vocals
*Jimmy Walker - Drums, Vocals
*Tommy Sullivan - Bass, , Guitar, Keyboards, Mini Moog, Orchestration, Piano, Saxophone, Vocals, Wind
*Raymond Beckenstein - Horn
*Garnett Brown - Horn
*Harold Coletta - Strings 
*Dominick Gravine - Horn
*Emanuel Green - Strings 
*Arthur Kaplan - Horn
*Harold Kohon - Strings 
*Joseph Malignaggi - Strings
*Richard Maximoff - Strings
*Kermit Moore - Strings
*Bruce Morgenheim - Guitar, Violin, Vocals
*David Nadien - Strings
*Joe Newman - Horn
*Gene Orloff - Strings
*Max Polikoff - Strings
*Seldon Powell - Horn 
*George Ricci - Strings
*Russ Savakus - Strings
*Joseph J. Shepley - Horn