It's a rare but exhilarating occasion when you put on a new CD and are utterly blown away by what you hear. Every now and then, music makes you feel magically alive -- makes you want to jump around, pound your fist in the air, and shout "Oh, yeah!" Listening to Grand Fury, the second major release by Los Angeles quartet the Bellrays, is such an experience.
Imagine the Funhouse-era Stooges fronted by a female R&B singer instead of Iggy Pop, and you'll have a vague understanding of what the Bellrays call "maximum rock 'n' soul". Although they've drawn comparisons to the Stooges or the MC5 fronted by Tina Turner, Etta James, or Aretha Franklin, the Bellrays rightly point out that soul was an important element in those Detroit-area punks' sounds. So, in some ways, the Bellrays are just bringing out an element of early punk music that was there all along. Nonetheless, the resulting sound is startlingly unique.
Lead singer Lisa Kekaula has also sung jazz, and it's obvious she has technical skill, but she tears into these songs with a venom and passion that is pure rock 'n' roll. Bandmates Tony Fate, Bob Vennum, and Ray Chin provide a raw, blues-edged backing that is loose enough to allow Kekaula considerable room to go wild.
And does she ever. With her raucous voice and the aggressive songs penned by guitarist Fate, Kekaula makes you believe she'd sooner spit in your face than look at you. "I'm stuck inside a moment / Can't find my way out / And time keeps draggin' on" she sings on "Fire on the Moon", but the confident way she spits out the words makes you believe she could claw her way out of anything. Likewise, Kekaula's indictment of "Stupid Fuckin' People" is so fierce it's almost scary. When she snarls, "Stupid fuckin' people always get in my way / Want to ruin my piece of the world" you know you'd better get out of her way. The only time this sonic assault slows down is on "Have a Little Faith in Me", a sexy soul number that Janis Joplin would have been proud to sing.
While Kekaula's amazing voice and charisma are key to the Bellrays' sound, the rest of the band has to be commended for rocking so hard without drowning out that fierce set of pipes. With all the over-produced pap dominating the airwaves, hearing a band this raw and raucous is a dream come true.