In their '90s heyday, Charlotte's The Ravelers crafted supple, muscular pop rock that merged R.E.M.'s Southern-comfort jangle, the electric minstrelsy of Jethro Tull and the rock-candy crunch of Cheap Trick. Yet, a well-received first LP and kudos from Sunset Strip svengali Kim Fowley weren't enough to keep the Ravelers rambling. A follow-up LP was shelved, and the combo called it quits in 2004.
Now, after a decade of neglect, the Ravelers' sophomore effort, Ravel On, finally gets a digital release. It was worth the wait.
Ravel On builds on the melodic, subtle dynamics of the debut disc, So Long, adding "Misty Mountain" Led Zep riffs, jazzy Steely Dan swing and a dash of the Zombies' haunted chamber pop to the Ravelers' hard pop arsenal.
Guitarist Mike Brown and Chris Elmore split the songwriting and singing chores. Though each has a distinct writing and vocal style — Elmore's voice evokes the swampy haze of '80s Athens, Ga., in contrast to Brown's bluff, Ian Anderson-does-Americana stylings — the pair are in complimentary synch.
Elmore brings a capering, slippery jazz feel to "Life's Sweet Fable." His meditative vocals spiral off into space on "Before We Lose Everything," which fuses the sweetly ascending prog of Argent with the country lilt of Big Star.
Brown brings torqueing psych-blues pyrotechnics to "A Little Clue," Stonesy swagger to "Call My Name" and Paisley Underground nonchalance to "California Holiday." On the instrumental title track, Brown's revved-up spaghetti western riffs cruise like a missile over White Sands, setting the template for his subsequent sonic flights as the Man From Ravcon.
It's tempting to call Ravel On the holy grail of North Carolina alt-rock, but that reduces this smoothly crafted song cycle to mere artifact. Finely detailed and crackling with invention, Ravel On is as vital now as the day it was recorded.