The Promise

Mitch Ryder

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The Promise Review

by Thom Jurek

Mitch Ryder is rightly revered for his mid-'60s hits "Jenny Take a Ride," Little Latin Lupe Lu," "Devil with a Blues Dress On," and "Sock It to Me Baby," as well as his band the Detroit Wheels' 1971 cover of Lou Reed's "Rock 'n Roll" that obliterated the original and became the definitive version. Since that time, Ryder has continued working. He issued a killer hard rock trilogy -- How I Spent My Vacation (1979), Naked But Not Dead (1980), and Never Kick a Sleeping Dog (1983). All were excellent but basically ignored outside Detroit. Ryder has continued to record and perform steadily, though his albums were issued only in Europe. The Promise was initially released there in 2009 as Detroit Ain't Dead Yet (The Promise). It's his first release in the States since 1983. It was produced by Don Was and performed by his stable of studio players: Jamie Muhoberac on keyboards, Reggie McBride on bass; Randy Jacobs on guitars; James Gadsen on drums, and backing vocalists Sweet Pea Atkinson and Arnold McCuller. The Promise features 11 Ryder co-writes. It's an economical set of rock, soul, and funk tunes with Ryder's iconic, gritty vocal signature riding herd. He's in stellar voice. At 66, he's lost none of his range; his expression goes deeper, lined with life's experiences for texture -- one listen to "Junkie Love" here provides the evidence. Opener "Thank You Mama" is a rocking eulogy for his parents. It contains a stinging guitar and Hammond organ atop a popping bassline and tight, rimshot-snapping snares; hand percussion adds another layer to the bottom. "One Hair" has a slow-burning, late-'60s, Motown-styled funky soul feel, with a rumbling bassline, breaks, and rolling congas. Ryder preaches a secular gospel in the verses, leading his backing vocalists through the musical tumult. It's a declarative strutter until the refrain. Here he cuts loose the bonds, and everything is up for grabs."My Heart Belongs to Me," a re-recorded tune, is a greasy, gritty Memphis-cum-Muscle Shoals groover that could have been cut by Eddie Hinton or Delaney Bramlett. "Crazy Beautiful," a stellar ballad, features one of Ryder's heroes, pianist Patrick Leonard of Toy Matinee. It's the one track here that shows off the entire range in Ryder's delivery and rings gutbucket true. The chilling version of "What's Become of the Broken Hearted" was recorded live at a Was appearance at Detroit's annual Concert of Colors. It's a deep soul showstopper. Closer "The Way We Were"-- not that version, but an original -- has Ryder nodding to Bob Dylan's prophetic "Subterranean Homesick Blues" with a rapper's sense of time. It's a nasty, midtempo groove that lays a foundation for his own vision of reality: from the Detroit of the 21st century. Ultimately The Promise doesn't point toward the future, but it does deliver fulfillment abundantly, from the place things really are, showcasing a confident, relevant, singer and songwriter. Ryder remains a singular talent, and finally, America gets to hear what it's been missing for 30 years.

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