Home Read Classic Album Review: The BellRays | Grand Fury

Classic Album Review: The BellRays | Grand Fury

The L.A. rock ’n’ soul crew's second disc is a hopped-up blast of hybrid magnificence.

207

This album came out back in 2001 (or at least that’s when I got my review copy). Here’s what I said about it then (with some minor editing):

 


Bumblebees, they say, should not be able to fly. Their bodies are too big and round, their wings are too small. According to the laws of aerodynamics, there’s no way they oughta even be able to lift off. Good thing bumblebees don’t know from physics. They just know how to fly.

L.A. rock ’n’ soul outfit The BellRays are in a similar predicament — by all rights, there’s zero chance this wild ’n’ woolly, one-of-a-kind combo should be able to function. On the one hand, they’re a hard-driving guitar-rock outfit, specializing in the visceral, three-chord proto-punk riffage of beloved Detroit mooks like The MC5, Sonic’s Rendezvous, The Amboy Dukes and The Stooges. On the other hand, they’ve got a big, belting, bluesy vocalist in the impressive personage of dynamically charged frontwoman Lisa Kekaula, whose full-throated, soulful delivery is inevitably likened to Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin. On the third hand, they’ve got a myriad of other influences, ranging from Sun Ra’s free-jazz skronk to the Maggot Brain psychedelia of Funkadelic to The Who’s windmilling Live at Leeds power chords — to damn near everything in between all those points. By all rights, the band should crash and burn before they even get off the ground.

Good thing The BellRays aren’t paying attention to the naysayers either. Because if they listened to reason, they never would have put out their sophomore album Grand Fury, a hopped-up blast of hybrid magnificence that not only manages to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee — it’s generating a gigantic buzz around this decade-old quartet that also features guitarist and songwriter Tony Fate, bassist Bob Vennum and the latter’s on- and off-stage foil Kekaula. Toss this sucker in the CD changer, hit shuffle, listen to any cut and you’ll see what I’m blathering on about.

Openers Too Many Houses in Here, Fire on the Moon and Snake City deliver gritty, pulverizing rock crunch. Evil Morning stops, stumbles and lurches, delving into new dimensions of experimental fuzz-tone. Monkey House thumps and grinds to a primal pounding pulse and a Twilight Zone guitar intro. But just when you think you’ve got ’em figured out, they toss in Have a Little Faith in Me, a sweet soul stirrer on an Otis Redding tip. And then there’s closer They Glued Your Head on Upside Down, a choogling two-minute shot of 100-proof backwoods R&B, complete with chicken-scratch washboard guitar.

If the songwriting doesn’t keep your ears pricked, chances are the lyrics will. “I know you’re the Devil ’cos you ain’t no man / With your super-Nazi Ku Klux Klan / With a gun at your side and a rope in your hand / You must die by the sword,” spits Kekaula on Zero P.M. On Warhead, she claims, “My daddy was a Nazi and my momma was a Jew / I’m so f—d up I don’t know what to do … If there’s one thing that I can’t stand / It’s living like a freak in this freaked-out land.” At one point, during a live snippet sandwiched between studio cuts, you can even hear her kicking ass and taking names from audience members during a gig: “Do you speak English?” she yells at the obviously dumbfounded crowd. “Don’t be laughing! This is serious s—!” Now that’s what you call working a crowd.

The hard-touring BellRays will undoubtedly be doing their serious s— at a bar near you shortly. Fasten your seatbelts — it’s gonna be a bumpy flight.