Don't bother asking Lisa Kekaula and Bob Vennum about the "return of rock and roll" currently celebrated by the mainstream music press. The married co-founders of the Bellrays will inform you that you're quite late to the party. The 12-year-old 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, topped only by the sweaty excitement of a live performance.
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, but it is an oversimplification. Sure, such Bellrays staples as "Testify," "Dark Horse Pigeon," and "Cold Man Night" bring to mind the hard and 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 and expansive flurry of Big Brother & the Holding Company, the bottom-heavy rock of Sly & the Family Stone, and the emotive soulfulness of Aretha Franklin and Etta James. The Bellrays refer to all these and more -- without sounding particularly like any one.
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