Ruffians - There & back 3/5

Reviewed: 10-14-05


CD 1
1. Fight for your life
2. Wasteland
3. Bad boys cut loose
4. Run for cover
5. Eyes of fire
6. You're all I need
7. Wasteland (live)
8. I've got to know (live)
9. Desert of tears (live)
10. Bad boys cut loose (live)
11. Ruffian (live)
12. Run for cover (live)
13. Fight for your life (demo version '84)
14. Eyes of fire (demo version '84)
15. Wasteland (demo version '84)
16. Bad boys cut loose (demo version '84)

CD 2
1. Do or die
2. Unchained
3. Only the strong survive
4. Through your eyes
5. Darkest of light (video track 2004)

Carl Albert really was one of the finest U.S. metal vocalists ever. The pride of Sonora, California made an enduring mark on American metal through his work with Vicious Rumors in the late 80s and early 90s, including his definitive performance on their 1991 opus, 'Welcome to the ball'. Most people know that Albert's life was tragically cut short on April 22, 1995 as a result of a one-vehicle accident. But what many discerning metalheads may not know is that in his pre-VR days, Albert sang for 2 other quality Bay Area acts, Villain and Ruffians. This double-CD set memorializes his tenure in the latter outfit.

Ruffians played an anthemic, true-as-steel variant of American metal, not a million miles removed from prime Vicious Rumors, albeit with less flashy guitar work and generally less speed than Geoff Thorpe's outfit. Another decent comparison might be Lizzy Borden, not for the theatrical aspect or the vocals, but for the midtempo catchy anthemic style. This CD kicks off with the band's classic 6-track mini-LP from 1985, which includes such bona fide cult classics as "Fight for your life", "Run for cover", "Eyes of fire", and "Bad boys cut loose" (replete with a chord progression that Ron Keel later borrowed on "Final Frontier"). The mini-LP tracks are a dose of mid-80s American traditional metal at its best, with strong songs, muscular guitars, sing-a-long choruses, and simply excellent vocal work courtesy of Mr. Albert. The mini-LP tracks are absolutely worth the price of admission all by themselves, and belong in every serious traditional metalhead's collection.

Unfortunately, things bog down considerably after the mini-LP songs conclude. The remaining 10 tracks on CD 1 include 6 live tracks from a 1985 performance, plus 4 songs from a 1984 demo session. Nearly all of these songs duplicate mini-LP cuts, meaning that CD 1 treats us to 3 similar versions of "Wasteland" and "Bad boys cut loose", as well as 2 versions of several other songs. Sometimes less is more, and I can't help feeling that this package would have been more enjoyable without all the repetition. Meanwhile, CD 2 is devoted to the band's output following Albert's departure in 1986, including a 4-song demo from 1987 and a video clip from their club show at the 2004 Bang Your Head festival. The 1987 material with new singer Rich Wilde is okay, but it feels a tad more commercial than their earlier recordings, and simply lacks magic without Albert's magnificent voice.

I like 'There & back' and I believe the fledgling Old School Metal Records label is to be commended for making Ruffians' work available to a whole new generation. But my endorsement is muted for several reasons. As mentioned above, it's a real stretch to extend this release to 2 CDs, with so much repetition. Most importantly, this release is almost entirely redundant of the Ruffians ''85 & Live' CD released on Germany's Hellion Records last year. ''85 & Live' included the first 12 tracks from CD 1 on 'There & back', as well as virtually identical liner notes and similar layout and photos (although the OSM release includes updated photos from the 2004 BYH appearance and omits lots of the classic-era photos). It's potentially deceptive and certainly superfluous to release so much of the same material under a different cover just one year later. Additionally, if Ruffians really are alive and kicking again, why did they not include new songs or a CD of new live recordings (as the 'There & back' title might imply)? It's not like there wasn't space for it. And finally, I wish the liner notes and layout had not been edited to delete the touching tribute and dedication to Carl Albert from the ''85 and Live' version. Give props where they're due, boys, 'cuz Albert was the real deal.




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