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Too much wine and my tongue gets slow
We remember it's time to go
And the curtain it descends
On those old peculiar friends...

Genya in concert

 

 

Ten Wheel Drive revolves around three musicians. Aram Schefrin writes lyrics (as a rule) and arranges. He plays guitar, banjo, percussion, autoharp and bouzouki. Aram is a real lyricist and, literary merit aside, his words satisfy. In "Morning Much Better," he mixes wry humour with nifty phrasing:

Comin' to night-time I dig to be up
Sorta floatin' around on a cloud
Watchin' the people walk past my window
And playin' my music loud
Comin' to noon I can't think about nothing
With the daylight blazing through
And the afternoon is a no 'count time
'Cause I got my business to do
I could probably function
For a little conjunction
But I usually like it in the morning much better

The words to Ten Wheel Drive songs are as fast-paced as the beat of the music. They are also cute, as in "Killing Weather," where General Custer sings of:

All the noise that I've been thrown
To keep me from getting here.
My blood begins to bubble
I expectorate on Grant
Tell him to take his principles
And shove them up his aunt

Mike Zager writes music (as a rule) and arranges. He plays electric organ, piano and clarinet. Unfortunately, I can't include excerpts of the music, but the Drive calls its music jazz-rock "a driving rock base over which is added a jazz chording with rock or blues solos." Their definition is acceptable, although hardly conveying the exhilaration of their songs, particularly at live gigs. While hard, loud rock is their specialty, they slow down for some beautiful numbers like "Lapidary," "I Had Him Down," "Come Live with Me" and "Candy Man Blues." The other seven members vary, yet the playing on each album is consistently superb. They whip through tough key and rhythm shifts.

The group as presently constituted is definitely together. (Of course the last group I said that about was the Airplane on Volunteers — their last album.) Drive's studio recordings don't contain as much solo work as their concerts, where they demonstrate virtuosity, of which there is plenty.

The last of the triumvirate is Genya Ravan. Born Polish, she speaks as if she's from Long Island. When she sings that's something else. She also plays harmonica, tambourine, silk blouse, harp and percussion, as well as collaborating in the songwriting. It is pointless to describe someone's singing, since it is a matter of taste. I like Genya because she can handle a hard song like "The Pickpocket" (He's made a stoned damn fool out of you) or "Eye of the Needle" and then be just as moving in an imploring ballad. Some groups don't let their female singers do enough. Ten Wheel Drive always places Genya Ravan up front where she belongs.

I have all three of their albums, but I cannot recommend just one. They are all top-notch and any preference I have is completely subjective. Their fourth disc will, hopefully, include their rock oratorio, Little Big Man. It premiered in March with the American Symphony Orchestra. I don't usually judge music on one hearing, but it sounded good to me.

 

Ten Wheel Drive's records are:
   Construction #1
   Brief Replies
   peculiar friends (are better than no friends at all)
   The Best of Ten Wheel Drive

15 May 1979
(from the Fourth Annual Sir John Suckling Memorial Clambake 
  & Literary Soiree)
Lyrics copyright Zager-Schefrin,
except "The Pickpocket" (Zager-Schefrin-Ravan)
revised essay ©1998 gt slade

L i n k s
  Genya in the house
  Genya at MySpace
  official Genya Ravan site
  review: For Fans Only Joe Viglione, AMG
  review in English, KCFOXY
  review in German – and I mean it
  Stereo Society
  Fine Discography
  d-filed



and a review by Lester Bangs of Peculiar Friends... Reviews are rarely life-altering. However, after reading this one, I have changed my position on an important issue and now favour mandatory drug testing for all critics. I will participate and, in fact, already have prepared a list of drugs I'd like to test.
 
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