Following its offbeat 2010 film soundtrack for Bunny And The Bull, the eccentric Ralfe Band return with a characteristically intriguing and unclassifiable recording, Son Be Wise. Main man Oly Ralfe juggles music with film-making and visual arts, and the fusion of such distinct yet connected crafts is evident in this latest record. There’s a cinematic scope to it and artful imagery to intrigue as much as to inform. The naturally nomadic Ralfe uses travel as the inspiration for much of his work and he underlines this by drawing on eclectic musical influences from folk balladry to gypsy waltzes with strains of pop, soft rock, and country.
The charming opener “Ox” is one of four songs featuring backing vocals from Alessi Laurent-Marke, a.k.a. Alessi’s Ark, and her seductive innocence blends well with Ralfe’s tipsily wavering delivery. The vision of an ox – a beautiful one at that — to carry your love across the hills lays down an early marker that you can expect the unconventional. The Belle & Sebastian-like “Barricades” redresses the balance a little with as catchy a chorus as you could wish, even though Ralfe is imagining his own death as a means of reminiscing. Staying with the theme of death, “Dead Souls” features some acerbic guitar and anarchic piano lines, sweetened by a softly echoed female harmony in the chorus, this time by Piney Gir.
A bevy of guest musicians supplement the band’s core four-piece line-up adding colour rather than taking over the stage. Ralfe’s Eric Satie-inspired piano playing is often to the fore and underpins the delicate intimacy of “Ladder” which sees him at his most plaintive. Elsewhere it adds melodrama to songs like the ghostly “Cold Chicago Morning”, a surreal song with a deliciously chaotic coda. By contrast the ivories are tenderly tinkled during the bossa nova sway of “Come On Go Wild”; an altogether lighter song if you forgive the line “Yes I bought a snake today and I left it on your dinner tray”.
The legendary BBC DJ, John Peel, once said of the early Ralfe Band: “It’s difficult to tell who they’ve been listening to…” The remark still rings true in 2013 as Ralfe Band has again served up a generous helping of originality and diversity.
Essential Tracks: “Ox”, “Barricades”, and “Ladder”.