Ramatam

Ramatam

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Tom Dowd produced 1972's self-titled debut from Ramatam, a poor man's Blind Faith featuring Mike Pinera (co-author of the Blues Image hit "Ride Captain Ride") on guitar and vocals and Mitch Mitchell on drums. The "star" of this group was alleged to be April Lawton, who had the Hendrix riffs down, to be sure, but not as creative as Robin Trower and all the gents who carried Jimi's sound and stylings into the '70s. An appearance by the group in Boston at the old Music Hall was pure white noise and not very memorable outside of that. The album is a bit more refined, but ultimately fails to deliver the goods. "Whiskey Place" opens the record sounding like a brazen blend of Ten Wheel Drive meets the Jimi Hendrix Experience without a Genya Ravan or a Jimi to save the day. The horns actually clash with the guitar while the bass has a mind of its own. The production work by Dowd on the first track is totally uninspired and it certainly feels like the act was left to its own devices. Mike Pinera and Les Sampson's "Heart Song" works much better, a jazzy vision of Traffic's brand of Brit rock meeting that of the West Coast's Quicksilver Messenger Service. But it's not enough -- Rare Earth-type macho vocals do much to implode the disc's potential, totally sinking Pinera's "Ask Brother Ask." Mitchell's great drum work is wasted on the monotony of the hook, and the musicianship gets so fragmented it sounds like Eno's Portsmouth Sinfonia without the humor. The Tommy Sullivan/April Lawton composition "What I Dream I Am," on the other hand, almost gets it done -- it's a pretty tune with flutes, acoustic guitar work, and simple percussion from Mitch. It fails because of vocals that just can't cut it, painful singing obliterating the disc's best chance for recognition. Was Tom Dowd out having coffee or just not interested in this whatsoever? America could have used an answer to Steve Winwood's poppy jazz, and a Genya Ravan would have brought this experiment out of the quagmire it finds itself in with her voice and production intuition. On the other band collaboration, "Wayso," the blues are undefined and the tape mix far from cohesive. Diffused and confused, Ramatam is a tragic statement of record labels trying to make a talent rather than finding one. "Changing Days" is another decent Sullivan/Lawton easy feeling co-write with horrible vocals eradicating the core goodness of the songwriting. Pinera's "Strange Place" takes the Kiss riff, from "Shout It Out Loud" and puts it in a jazz setting with vocals that sound like they are auditioning for Savoy Brown -- and failing to get the gig. If that sounds awful, just be thankful you're reading about it without having to hear this mess. By 1973 the group would be pared down to a power trio of Lawton, Sullivan, and Jimmy Walker on drums. Perhaps bassist Russ Smith, ex-Iron Butterfly Pinera, and Mitchell saw the writing on the wall, but how they couldn't come up with something much, much better than this is the mystery. There's enough combined talent here to have delivered a real gem. With this album, Ramatam have re-written Euclid's axiom and turned it on its head: here the whole is less than the sum of its parts. The final track, "Can't Sit Still," sounds like producer Dowd looped his old Ornette Coleman and Allman Brothers tapes with his Black Oak Arkansas projects. And if Ramatam hadn't toured, people might have thought that's exactly what this was.

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