Don't bother asking Lisa Kekaula and Bob Vennum about the "return of rock and roll" currently being celebrated by the mainstream music press. The married co-founders of the Riverside, California-based Bellrays--who have been blasting away a soulful blend of rock and roll since 1991--will simply inform you that you're quite late to the party. The band's latest disc, Raw Collection, compiles previously unreleased material and out-of-print vinyl-only releases and aptly demonstrates that, from the beginning, the Bellrays were well in the zone with their creation of what would later be christened "maximum rock and soul"; they aren't jumping on any Detroit bandwagon. The first two tracks alone, the Who-style "You're Sorry Now" and the MC5-fueled "Nights In Venice" (from 1995 and '96 respectively) provide an effective one-two combination, only topped by the sweaty excitement of a live performance.
Speaking of the MC5, the Bellrays have made abundantly clear their disdain for the somewhat overused description of them as "the MC5 fronted by Tina Turner," and perhaps with good reason. It's not that the reference is off the mark. It isn't, but it is an oversimplification. Sure, Bellrays staples like "Testify," "Dark Horse Pigeon" and "Cold Man Night" bring to mind the hard-n-easy tenseness of Ike & Tina driven by the high-octane power of the White Power Party. But listen carefully and you'll also find traces of the psychedelic blues jams of War, the ragged, expansive flurry of Big Brother & the Holding Co., the bottom-heavy rock of Sly & the Family Stone and the emotive soulfulness of Aretha Franklin and Etta James. The Bellrays reference all of these and more without sounding particularly like any one. Just as the Beatles merged Buddy Holly beats, Chuck Berry licks and Everly Brothers harmonies to initiate their sound, the Bellrays have mined these influences to give birth to something uniquely their own.
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