There & Back

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Naming a label Old School Metal Records leaves very little to the imagination, but at least there are no surprises when its inaugural release turns out to be a collection of long-lost material by San Francisco's Ruffians -- a band so obscure they never even made it as far as getting signed during their original mid-'80s existence. And listening back to their original, eponymous six-song mini-LP of 1985 (which opens this set), it's immediately and abundantly evident why they got lost in the shuffle. Not only were tracks like "Fight for Your Life" and "Wasteland" inordinately conventional in their predictable hard rock arrangements, but much like beleaguered local heroes Y&T, they suffered from what can only be described as exceedingly clean production standards, rendering them professional but lifeless. Vocalist Carl Albert's elastic range and piercing screams do lend a certain semblance of (very) early Queensr├┐che to more spirited numbers like "Run for Cover" and the quasi-thrashing "Eyes of Fire"; but "You're All I Need" is a hopelessly undercooked attempt at pompous power balladry (Y&T's "I Believe in You" was "Stairway to Heaven" by comparison!), while "Bad Boys Cut Loose" simply suffers from the sort of knuckleheaded chorus that only glam metal outfits from down the coast in L.A. could hope to pull off. Some of these songs are reprised with superior results -- amid a few more decent originals like "I've Got to Know," "Desert of Tears," and their namesake track -- in the ensuing live recordings, proving that stifling production may indeed have been the root of Ruffians' downfall. But as the original 1984 demos that close disc one, and the additional, assorted live samplings (mostly from 1987, but also including a video performance from their one-off 2004 reunion at a German festival) covering disc two confirm, Ruffians was a competent but workmanlike outfit that was never really worthy of greatness anyway. However, they are perfect for the cult following this expertly packaged collection will attract, so have it, nerds.

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