The Ragged School has a special place in the heart of all American Jacobites fans in that it was the first released on these shores by the venerable Twin/Tone label. Peter Jesperson, in his infinite rock & roll wisdom -- after all, he gave us the Replacements, didn't he? -- knew he liked it immediate, raw, and with no bullsh*t attached, and Nikki Sudden, Dave Kusworth, the late Epic Soundtracks, and Mark Lemon got it, along with a boatload of session players contributing on a track or two. The Ragged School features numerous songs that appeared on other Jacobites recordings, though the extra-slow version of "Big Store" (which appeared on every Jacobites album) is the original version. Here are the songs that offered the listener a portrait of all the things the Jacobites could be better than any band they ever stole from -- the Rolling Stones and the Faces notwithstanding. Take, for example, the absolutely broken "It'll All End up in Tears," where Kusworth's voice breaks continually from the emotion in recalling something from long ago as Sudden's guitars lilt around him and Epic's brushes prod him into just one more verse. "Hurt Me More" is Jagger and Richards meeting Gram Parsons in bar where he's recovering from the after-effects of a particularly torrid affair. The acoustic guitar solos, including Sudden's slide, are pure Faces, but sloppier, more drunken, and therefore -- to this listener's ears -- more immediate and convincing than Ron Wood's, though certainly not as proficient. "Heart of Hearts" is simply one of the most moving songs that Sudden and Kusworth ever wrote together. The wall of acoustic guitars stridently buoying Kusworth as he pleads with his wife to take him back and Sudden's illusory "sitar" in the background add an extra bit of texture to bring the tune into the realm of something more refined than it really is. All 13 songs on the original The Ragged School album are stellar. There isn't a sub-standard second on this shambolic, stirring, drunken, absolutely searingly honest rock & roll album. The Secretly Canadian CD adds 11 bonus tracks that were recorded around the same time; some were rejected for the album -- though they could have easily been included -- or used as B-sides. While Jacobites may have recorded rowdier, more "rockist" albums, not one of them plumbs the emotional depths this one does. It is a wasted masterpiece of wistful dreams, dashed hopes, forlorn despair, and a willing resignation to continue at any and all costs. Sh*t, how else would rock & roll -- especially this wrecked, poetic, and elegantly unglamorous -- respond?
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek