I saw something on Twitter yesterday that really chimed with me. There was a meme that said “when you discover new music, it feels like you’ve discovered a whole new world”.
I have written before that even as a lad of six years old I was obsessed with music, buying singles from the Co-Op my gran worked in and pretending to be a radio DJ, playing them to death, but from the second I heard Bon Jovi as a nine year old I knew rock n roll was my home. The thing that would never leave me.
I was on holiday with my parents in the early 90s and I’d found a record shop in Scotland somewhere, when I came across a tape by a band called Dog’s D’Amour. I’d read about them in Kerrang! And the artwork was cool, so I bought it.
“Graveyard Of Empty Bottles” was more than just the first acoustic album I’d heard, it was that window to another world. Another place where rock n roll stars were troubadours, were the guitar playing was loose and where the music was the only thing that mattered.
30 odd years on I am still drawn to that type of artist. Which explains why I loved The Role Models so much. Their singer Rich Rags (at the time) sent me their album, now Rich Ragany, he’s on his second record with The Digressions. The first one was brilliant: “It is between contentment and despair anyway it seems, but more broadly, this could have gone in many a direction. You suspect, though, that whatever it did, this would have been fabulous.” I’d said back in 2021.
This one is a little bit different in tone, but “What We Do (To Not Let Go)” is an equally superb piece of work.
For “What We Do….” What they did was strip it down. It’s a much more in-your-face and immediate album, that much is clear from the opening strains of the title track. Gaff (once of The Gliteratti and I’d happily bore anyone on the majesty of their early singles) is off and solo-ing straight away, but it seems that Ragany is bursting to get going.
The harmonies with Kit Swing are integral not just here but throughout the album, the way they meld together on the soulful “You’re My Way Back Home” rather underlines it, but there’s something inherently catchy about it all. This has hooks, this is one you can hum, even the ones like “How Much Of Me Is You”. Perhaps the best song here, strip away the ebullience, however, and you’ll find lyrics about “Ghosts On The Wall” and “vomit in the pantry”. It’s that type of record though, where things just sneak up on you.
I used the word troubadour earlier, and there’s some of that on the slower ones like “One More For The Train”. There’s clear comparisons with Johnny Thunders that have been made before, elsewhere, but they are here for all to see here.
This is a record with so much energy, and the chorus of “Till I’m On My Feet Again” shines even within that. It juxtaposes beautifully with the late night regret of “End Of All Things”. There’s a wonderfully haunting quality to Andy Brook’s keyboards and the understated strings.
The “folk” side of this is best shown on “Highgate Sun”. Americana bands (and Ragany is Canadian) would kill for this type of warm summer breeze of a track, and if Ragany reckons that this one is less of a “cinematic” feel than the last one, then some of it seems to exist in natural widescreen. There’s a bit of The Levellers in “One Last Thing To Prove” (minus the fiddle, obviously) and there’s a glorious “get in the fast lane and just go!” quality to the three minute rock n roll song that “Pretty Breeze” is and if you like Tyla as much as I do, just get to this one and wallow in nostalgia.
Given that most of these hover around that three minute length it is striking how much ground they cover. The beautiful ballad “Shade Of Shameless” for example has an epic feel, before “Forever Ghosts” – which follows immediately – is a foray into almost pop waters. Certainly, the guitar line which runs through it brings to mind The Stereophonics.
Although there are 14 songs on this, it never feels too long, nor are there any that you feel you could lose, instead, there are some gems in the deep cuts, “Gravity” or the utterly fragile “Waiting” – the type of thing that Jesse Malin does so well – are both fine songs. As is the closing “Outro”. Acoustic and beginning with the thought “there’s tears in our eyes as we say our goodbyes”. The grief here is palpable, and the way Ragany says “see ya” is so full with emotion.
That’s what the best can do, though. They make you feel. Their personal songs feel universal, until they mean something to you too. This is rock n roll, yes, but “What We Do (To Not Let Go)” is beyond that. It’s one that takes hold. And it won’t loosen its grip.