(All Album Reviews by ffroyd)
Enterprising music labels have been unearthing great obscure gems at a very consistent rate these last few years. This process raises a number of questions, one of the more important being how some of these items became so unknown in the first place. For many bands, the answer is fairly obvious that they just didn't have as much talent as the groups that made it and the music was quite inferior. A few of them, however, present a complete mystery as to why they never became at least partially famous. Then there are some stories where the answer becomes clear once you hear their story. The early 70s Arkansas band Rayburn have such a tale.
Signed to Mega records, a subsidiary label of RCA records, they had recorded an album that was ready to be released. All of a sudden the label stopped returning phone calls from the band and before they knew it, the deal was off without any explanation. Several years later, it was revealed that the father of one member had bought the contract in order to persuade his son to join the family business and abandon rock 'n' roll. This is a pretty underhanded act if you ask me. It's one thing to not support your children in something that you don't believe in, but to sabotage a potential career and something that the son probably really enjoyed was nothing short of cruelty. After reading all the details, I am astounded that these recordings ever surfaced at all. Fortunately, something this good hasn't remained buried under the sands of time so let us discover a little more about this literally unsung band.
Hailing from the city of Little Rock, the band Rayburn consisted of Jimmy Roberts on guitar, Steve Stephens on keyboards, Mack Price on bass and Robbie Carder on drums. Most of the members had a background in church vocal groups so every member sings. The band was very talented and had a progressive style that was fairly unusual for American bands of the time. Their style seems kind of commonplace these days but if they had been given a chance back then would have probably stood out enough to get them noticed. The music can be compared to the output of several others such as Touch, Bloodrock and early Kansas but not exactly like any of these. The keyboard work of Stephens is particularly notable.
The cancellation of their label deal did not break the group up although it did take most of the wind out of their sails. They reentered the studio on several different occasions with results that sound very impressive. In July of 1974 Jimmy Roberts passed away from complications of spinal cancer, just a few short months after marrying his childhood sweetheart. This disc would have probably not been possible without the work of Jimmy's brother Tommy, who had preserved the demo tapes and many of the photos that appear in the CD booklet. The band reunited in2009 for a jam session and to listen to these demo tapes. I imagine some folks involved hadn't heard this music in decades and were amazed at how good it sounded today.
Folks out there with an interest in early American progressive rock should definitely look into this one. The label Psych of the South has released a very awesome artifact here. There are some fascinating pieces on this disc that I'm sure will appeal to folks into that scene. Unfortunately, this one will slip off into obscurity again very soon but at least it's comforting to know the music has been given a second chance.