Monday, June 10, 2024

Rich Ragany - You Can Get Dark with Me

I know this is around the 20th time that I have championed the songwriting talents of Mr. Rich Ragany, but I have to say that ole Rags has truly outdone himself with his new album You Can Get Dark with Me (out this Friday on Barrel And Squidger Records). In the aftermath of What We Do (To Not Let Go), his arena-sized swan song with his band The Digressions, Rags wanted to go in a more intimate direction with his next release. But rather than simply going the typical homemade "unplugged" route, Rags had a more interesting idea: he would "deconstruct to reconstruct." He recorded all these songs at home on the very day they were written. The tracks were later fleshed out in the studio with producer Andy Brook and the Digressions' rhythm section of Simon Maxwell and Ricky McGuire. Rags also traveled back to his hometown of Calgary to work on a few tracks with his pal Russ Broom. Notably, the final mixes of these tracks still include Rags' original homemade recordings. The whole point of this approach was to capture the spur-of-the-moment solitary inspiration of the songs while also highlighting how they blossomed into something even better. Sometimes songwriters try and simplify things. Other times, they try and stretch themselves. Here Rags has done both, creating songs that sound meticulously-crafted without losing their direct, personal feel. You might guess that all those guitars were overdubbed in the studio. Nope, that's actually Rags in his bathroom with an acoustic guitar. I kid you not!

Music reviewers (myself included...ha ha) are sometimes full of it when they hail every favorite artist's new release as their best yet. But there's no way I can't say You Can Get Dark with Me is the best album Rich Ragany has ever put his name on. He has been on quite a run over the past decade, releasing three albums with The Role Models, three with The Digressions, and now his proper solo debut. All of these previous records were excellent and among the best long players of their year. But Rags has never delivered a more powerful or consistent collection of songs than the one he will drop on Friday. You Can Get Dark with Me contains 10 songs, and every single one of them would have been a standout track on any of Rags' previous releases. To call this album "filler-free" is an understatement. What stands out to me is how seamless Rags' growth as a songwriter has been — building off his roots in punk rock and power pop yet very quickly transcending genre. It's very hard to put a label on You Can Get Dark with Me because it simply sounds like Rich Ragany. And who says we need to label music? Rags put his soul into these songs. His voice, his flair for melody, his knack for anthemic hooks, and his relatability as a songwriter are the stuff of a genuine original. And after three decades plus of slugging it out in the world of rock 'n' roll, he's just now hitting his creative peak. I promise to call him out if his next record sounds like Warrant, but something tells me I won't have to worry about that. 

Of course the album title is worthy of mention. It was inspired by something Scott Sorry said to Rags, and it speaks to what so many of these songs are truly about. When it comes to friendship (or any kind of close relationship), some of our most meaningful interactions stem from hard times. We support our friends when they struggle, and we use our strength to lift them up. Other times our friends do this for us. Sometimes this leads to dark conversations, but those dark conversations can be lifelines for us or the people we love. The people willing to get dark with you are the people you need in your life. It goes without saying that You Can Get Dark with Me gets a little dark, but it's dark in a way that's honest and intimate and invigorating for the soul. Rags has a way of writing about topics such as trauma, addiction, grief, alienation, and self-doubt as if he's talking directly to a friend. If you don't know him, you'll feel like you do after you listen to this album. Surely that's one of the marks of a great songwriter. Singling out individual tracks is a difficult task on an album as strong as this one. That said, "You Can Get Dark with Me" is a powerful ballad worthy of its inspired title. "Sierra Bonita," redolent of '80s new wave and post-punk, meets every possible definition of an anthem. "Tragic Celebration" is deeply-moving and inspiring — and quite possibly the best song Rags has ever written. "Worth," which passionately justifies all the struggles, sacrifices, trials, and tribulations that go into a life of a musician, puts an emphatic end mark on an extraordinary album.  

Due to the way it as created, You Can Get Dark with Me is a very unique album. It does come off as more intimate and personal than What We Do (To Not Let Go), yet it's no less anthemic. It's a great album to listen to while you're taking a long walk or sitting alone on the porch reflecting on the meaning of life. These songs will hit deep in your soul, but they'll also make you want to pump your fist, sing along, jubilantly dance in public, and relish feeling alive. Now four paragraphs deep into this piece, I'm surely preaching to the choir if I proclaim Rich Ragany one of the best songwriters out there. But if you do need some convincing, You Can Get Dark with Me is the album to listen to. Order it here!

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