If you're willing to trust and indulge The White Ravens in their quirky lyrics and shifts in tempo and mood, you'll find it hard to resist the rock-operatic "Spaaace," about an inept captain, a helpless first mate, and the dread space pirate Daggerbeard. Will begins the song with a quick piano treble melody somewhat reminiscent of the Peanuts theme song and then alternates between hitting the brakes and pressing the gas pedal in a restive drive interspersed with the chorus's compelling march and a clean staircase of synthesized scales, before progressing into a swaggering pirate punk cabaret roused by accordion and shouting. This raucous song and most of the others on the album feature drums by Liberty DeVitto, Billy Joel's drummer of three decades; The White Ravens' live shows include drummer Jeremy Frey.
In "Rube Goldberg," the prominent treat is Amy's taffy-sweet vocals, as she nimbly sings her way through a playful and convoluted chain reaction that causes her to "fall like a domino" into another's arms. Contrast this song's pretty, high-pitched chorus (which you can get out of your head only by going to sleep) with "Conspiracy," in which Amy luxuriates in a lower vibrato uncannily reminiscent of Gwen Stefani, and you have a charming chameleon of a singer whose arched enunciation of certain words also occasions surprise.
The White Ravens' release party for Saddle Up the Whales is Saturday, September 29, at Woodruff's in Ypsilanti, with profits donated to Michigan water conservation groups.
[Originally published in September, 2012.]