Share THE RATIONALS - The Rationals (Big Beat)
Four decades after its original LP issue, one of The Great Lost Albums is finally restored to centre stage, this time on re-mastered CD. Popularly known as "the Crewe album" after the label it originally came out on, "The Rationals" is the first and last studio long-player by the great Michigan band of the same name. It's been given top-shelf treatment by Big Beat, as is only fitting.
The band might have been unhappy with the final product's production values (they had no time for the guy behind the desk and the sessions were tough) but some broader context is in order here. The Rationals had been kept on a short management rein and were never in a position to sign to a major label - despite no shortages of approaches. Local success with a cover of "Respect" that pre-empted Aretha's smash hit by some months had them primed to kick on. In many ways they found themselves in a commercial eddy while stylistic rallying points swirled around them. The Rationals kept on doing what they did but did feel let down by the album recording experience.
The Rationals started life as a beat band, became a blue-eyed soul outfit with a guitar edge and entrenched themselves as the Grande Ballroom house band without ever getting down and political like their friends the MC5 and The Up. It's all well documented on Big Beat's stunning double CD compilation, "Think Rational!", but the Crewe album is where they ended up, to fall apart soon after its 1970 release.
You get all the things that made the band great on "The Rationals". Scott Morgan's peerless, soulful vocal goes hand in glove with fellow guitarist Steve Correll's. Bill Figg and bassist Terry Trabandt make for a fluid and extremely musical engine room, playing the songs rather than just driving them. The Rationals had vocal ability to burn but that wasn't limited to Morgan - Correll takes lead on "Deep Red", "Something's Gotta Hold On Me" and "Ha Ha" - and if their set lists were heavy on covers, that was the only drawback. Still, the originals here are fairly great.
It's an album of contrasts but bears listening from start to finish. The stirring "Temptation's Gotta A Hold Of Me" and triumphal closer "Ha Ha" are right up there as strong and soulful wonders. "Guitar Army" - a call to get down, not overthrow The Man, that caused confusion - shows the grittier side of The Rationals, the album opener "Barefootin'" their playful side, underpinned by scuzzy guitar.
Compiler Alex Palao has penned fantastic liner notes that use band member insights to shine a light on the highs and lows of a great band. They also throw up Moby Grape as an influence, which is a revelation. There are four bonus tracks - the hard-to-find "Zip-A-Dee Dooh-Dah", single versions of "Sunset" and "Guitar Army" - and a previously unreleased live-in-the-studio "Wang Dang Doodle" that is amazing.
A lot people passed this album by in 1970. The smart ones did not. What side are you on?- The Barman
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THINK RATIONAL! - The Rationals (Big Beat/Shock)
This long overdue compilation of the early years of the vastly underrated Rationals from Ann Arbor, Michigan, only tells part of the story, but it would be churlish to complain (especially as there's a follow-up in the works.) These two discs pull together top-shelf slices of blue-eyed soul and garage-beat from the Rats' time with manager "Jeep" Holland's A-Square label (1965-68) and present a collection that puts most of the competition in the shade. Blame Allen Klein for the delay.
They might not have realised it at the time but the Rationals had a considerable head start on several fronts. Scott Morgan was a vocalist par excellence, while Steve Correll was also an adept vocalist and formidable rhythm guitarist who learned when NOT to play. Drummer Bill Figg and bassist Terry Trabandt were a rock solid engine room, the latter bringing another set of harmonies to the mix. Plus, their manager was well-connected locally, a clever arranger and a conduit for the new music that was being piped into the Midwest from the UK.
Knowing what songs were going down before local radio stations cottoned onto them was a big part of it all in the mid-'60s where a patchwork quilt of disconnected local scenes was laid over the USA. Every band of any note started life playing someone else's songs. If the tune and interpretation were good enough, the odds were short for airplay and sales and maybe a lip-synched spot on network TV. If a label or producer's iron grip was loose enough, then that original B side laid down on tape after the A was done might just attract attention.
Of course in the end the Rationals failed to break nationally, despite having a regional hit with "Respect" long before Aretha jumped on board and made the song her own. As compiler Alec Palao comments in his liner notes, despite having some excellent originals in their kit bag it was as interpreters, rather than innovators, that they'd be remembered.
So that's the back story, what's the nub? Thirty-four songs and 17 of them previously unreleased in these versions. The obvious ones are present ("Respect", "Feelin' Lost", "I Need You".) Not one but two versions of "Leavin' Here" (one of them radically different from the one you might know) and most of the unreleased acetates that were doing the rounds on a similarly-titled bootleg a few years ago.
A couple of demos and a rehearsal of "Out In The Streets" are icing on the cake. The Rationals' take on "Smokestack Lightning" alone is worth your hard-earned.
In some ways the Rats were the perfect house band for a venue like Russ Gibb's legendary musical hothouse, the Grande Ballroom in Detroit. Even in their more soulful moments, they had ample power to grab a crowd's attention and keep it. Detroit was something of a clearing house for the pick of touring bands and the Rats were more than capable of holding their own. "Think Rational!" proves it.
The band split with Holland as this collection draws to a close and that was in many ways inevitable. Impulsive and energetic, he was also a control freak at close quarters, and his charges needed both his undivided attention and room to grow to break outside their home turf of the Midwest.
It's all in Palao's liners which are based on detailed first person narrative from the band members. There are some fascinating insights, and you'll be left thinking what if Jerry Wexler had signed the band to Atlantic when he first tried, or what might have happened if the Rats had more wholeheartedly embraced input from their friend Bob Seger.
If your knowledge of the Rationals starts and ends with "Respect" on the "Nuggets" collection or similar, this set will open your ears. Let your decision to buy be Rational. The best places to procure it are Amazon in the US and UK, and Australians should note that Shock is pushing the album into local retail. - The Barman
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