(Michigan Broadcasting Company)
The Reverend and BLURT, being the cutting-edge purveyors of
rock ‘n’ roll culture that we are, originally published this review of the U.K.
release (on the Freeworld label) of Mitch Ryder’s Detroit Ain’t Dead Yet
(The Promise) back in April 2010. Now that the album is being released
stateside, with a shortened title, as Ryder’s first U.S. album in nearly 30
years, we thought that we’d dig this review out of the archives, brush off any
dust it may have collected, and provide Blurt readers another chance to
discover this solid effort from one of rock’s legendary figures. The Promise is the same album as the Reverend reviewed almost two years ago, with the exception of a name change — the song “Back
Then” is now “Thank You Mama” — but it is no less powerful a
collection of high-voltage rock ‘n’ soul music. Enjoy!
Back in the fall of 1980, when Detroit rocker Bob Seger was
riding high on the charts and packin’ ’em into the stadiums with his Against
The Wind album, he sold out every show during an unheard-of nine-night
stand in the Motor City. For these triumphant homecoming shows, Seger
rock ‘n’ soul legend Mitch Ryder as his opener, a gracious act that
jump-started Ryder’s second shot at the brass ring.
Born William Levise, Jr. in Hamtramck, a city
within the city limits of Detroit, Ryder got his
start singing as a teen with a local soul band named the Peps before forming
his own Billy Lee and the Rivieras.
Discovered in 1965 by producer Bob Crewe, the band was re-named Mitch Ryder and
the Detroit Wheels, and they would go on to score a string of early hits like
“Jenny Take A Ride,” “C.C. Rider,” and “Devil with a
Blue Dress On.” When the hits dried up, Ryder made the sojourn to Memphis to record the
amazing The Detroit/Memphis Experiment with Booker T and the MG’s in
Returning home, Ryder put together the ground-breaking rock outfit Detroit, which released a
single 1971 album that yielded a hit with an energetic cover of Lou Reed’s
“Rock and Roll.” By 1973, though, Ryder was experiencing problems
with his voice, and he retired from music. He still had the itch, however, and
his self-produced 1978 comeback album How I Spent My Vacation led to
the aforementioned gigs opening for Seger; more indie releases; a major label
deal and a John Mellencamp-produced, critically-acclaimed album that went
nowhere fast. Although Ryder’s overshadowing influence could be heard in
’80s-era hits from folks like Seger, Mellencamp, and Springsteen, the man
couldn’t get arrested with his own work.
Flash forward almost 30 years and, much like the gardens that are starting
to crop up in the abandoned lots around the urban wasteland formerly known as Detroit, Mitch Ryder is
still punching away at success. He never really went anywhere you know…Ryder
remained somewhat of a star in Europe, and he
has continued to record and release albums to the present day. In the closing
days of 2009, he teamed with producer Don Was – another Motor
City talent – to record The
Promise in L.A. with a top notch batch of musicians.
Working with a set of largely original songs, Ryder has delivered a spirited
performance that equals his mid-1980s creative peak.
Ryder’s calling card has always been his uncanny ability to blend blues,
soul, and rock ‘n’ roll into a single artistic entity, and it’s no different
here. Ryder’s whiskey-soaked vocals still ooze with blue-eyed soul better than
anybody ever has; nowhere is this more evident than on the album-opening track,
the semi-autobiographical “Back Then.” Ryder’s vox slip-n-slide
across a funky soundtrack with characteristic swagger, growling when necessary
and hitting the high notes when appropriate as the band lays down a vicious
And so it goes…the Southern-fried soul of “My Heart Belongs To
Me” benefits from some Steve Cropper-styled geetar pickin’, a lively
rhythmic backdrop, and Ryder’s passionate vocals. The intelligent, sometimes
shocking “Junkie Love” is a frank discussion of addiction that
benefits from 1970s-styled rolling funk-n-soul instrumentation, lively vocals,
and Randy Jacobs’ squealing fretwork. A beautiful cover of the great Jimmy
Ruffin soul gem “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted” was recorded
live and showcases Ryder’s emotion-tugging vocal abilities while “The Way
We Were” is a haunting, topical tale of society’s decline that rocks as
hard as it rolls.
This isn’t an exploitative cash-grab taking advantage of some over-the-hill,
broken-and-broke-ass rocker. No, this is the one-and-only Mitch Ryder, still
kicking ass and taking names at age 65, delivering a monster set of songs that
combine the artist’s 1960s rock ‘n’ soul roots with his edgy 1980s solo work.
With a sympathetic producer in Don Was, who worked with Ryder in the 1990s with
his own Motor City band Was (Not Was), Ryder is able
to make a late-career statement that stands tall alongside anything he’s ever
ain’t dead yet, and neither is Mitch Ryder….
DOWNLOAD: “The Way We Were,” “What
Becomes Of The Broken Hearted,” “Back Then” REV. KEITH A. GORDON