Review: Adam Ezra Group – Ragtop Angel (Royal Avenue Music/2011)
Photograph by Richard Uznanski
At my first Adam Ezra Group show, the audience was invited to pay whatever we liked for the albums on the merchandise table. My friend dropped a twenty in the box and hoped that Adam would be able to afford a pair of shoes. I, however, preferred the bandleader barefoot. It all fit; the toes, the music, and the crowd moved with abandon. From the back of the room, all the heads seemed to bob in unison as fans grooved to the band’s beat.
Most of the songs performed that night were originals and written by Adam Ezra. The crowd knew and sang all the words. This Boston based roots-rock band has a solid New England following, and on that cold December evening the shared energy and enthusiasm were electric.
On newly released album Ragtop Angel, the clinking barroom glasses and background chatter are missing. What remain are Adam Ezra’s expressive vocals, the band’s tight musicianship, and ten original songs, all written or co-written by Adam Ezra. The disc is surprising for its consistency across all ten tracks; both the material and production are solid. Produced by Aaron Johnson (best known for his work with The Fray) the album stays true to the band’s rock underpinnings but offers a soulful delivery that brings the message home.
If there is one unifying theme to Ezra’s songwriting, it is risk taking. The lead single “Takin Off” urges a young couple to take a chance, to leave “the run-down shadows of the town you love” in order to “gamble on the life we chase”. In “Devil’s Side” Adam tells us “I will not hide, I will take my rightful place; Destiny I face at the devil’s side tonight”. The one song that stands apart from the rest is “Soldier”, and this describes a different kind of involuntary gamble. Danger is thrust upon the trooper who is forced to remain focused on “what would be the perfect night to watch the sky”.
From the rocking opener “14 Days” to the acoustic charmer “OK by You”, the band’s flexibility is showcased. Adam Ezra is on lead vocals, guitar and harmonica, Josh Gold on keys, Turtle on percussion, and Robin Vincent Soper on bass. The only thing missing is the delicious sense of anticipation that accompanies Turtle’s highly regarded triangle solo in the live setting. That loss is nearly compensated by the album’s closing song, a live cut of “Burn Brightly” that finds Adam ad libbing lyrics in a rhythm that suggests rap is not out of his range.
While the following video of album track “Miss Hallelujah” clearly pays tribute to the band’s Boston roots, with adequate exposure Ragtop Angelmay be the force that ultimately pushes Adam Ezra Group out of the east and into the national spotlight.