It’s all fine and good to imagine that the world will consider you a rockstar if you get a guitar and learn how to play it. It’s a whole other thing to start believing that the world won’t ever make sense, and that you won’t ever get to fully engage with it unless you learn to play that damn six-string.
The Ram’s “Songs of Wanderlust” is a rock n’ roll meditation travelogue, a testament to life spent on the road (on any roads, frankly), with the goal of one day seeing where all these pieces that make up the world fit each other.
Musically, this touches on the blues, and classic rock n’ roll. But it doesn’t appear to be done for nostalgic reasons, unlike the myriad of groups playing Keith Richard or Jimmy Page-like riffs. No, it’s a eulogy for music figured out, set up and played by real people. These are the kind of recordings that retain the warmth of the people responsible for making their instruments speak.
Album opener, “Motor Kine,” is powered by tasteful, bluesy slide guitar and restrained early 50s rock n’ roll drumming. It’s a monument to a great escape, a tune recalling the songwriter’s earliest desires for travelling and for freedom.
This is the theme of the album. “Do It Right” is built with almost psychedelic-rock backing complete with excellent sax licks. The gritty vocals recall the thrill of letting each new town get lost in the rearview mirror. There’s a similar romance for driving one’s troubles away in “Ragtop Car,” a song that also comes equipped with a great, understated blues-rock guitar riff.
What “Songs of Wanderlust” is not is merely a blues improvisation record, the unfortunate result of many experiments with the genre. No, the arrangements are carefully put together, and the playing is confident, but restrained. The Ram’s “It’s a Saturday Night” with its Stonesy groove, and raspy vocals is fine-tuned for those accustomed with the pristine sounds of classic rock radio.
Indeed, The Ram manages to capture recordings that suggest live playing. Not just that, these are recordings of a tightly-knit group, one that drives its sound to a clear destination. You can hear that in songs like the soulful “New Day Dawn,” in which the singing reaches for some impressive lower register notes.
Where does this all leaves us? Men find all sorts of strange ways of spending their lives. And that’s just the ones that manage to find a direction at all. Some try to make money, some raise kids. There are those that end up at the bottom of a bottle each night, and those who swear by meditation.
The Ram’s music, and the lives that inspired it, belong to the last category. It’s a meditation on freedom, one done from the front of a car making its way through cities that reveal themselves and then get lost in a gentle haze of memories. “Cut Loose” and the slow blues of “Outside the City” end the record in hopeful fashion. Whatever it is you’re looking for must surely be in the next town, and driving to it is worth our time. We don’t even have to speed up to it. It’ll wait.
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