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All Lit Up - 65%

Twisted_Psychology, May 23rd, 2019

Last Days Here will always be known as that documentary where Bobby Liebling smoked crack on camera, but there was a narrative about the Pentagram frontman’s attempts to get back on track after decades of addiction. One such attempt was his Ram Family, a collaboration between Liebling and prolific multi-instrumentalist Dave Sherman among others to craft songs for what would eventually be 2011’s Last Rites. While these songs never materialized beyond a few live performances, this 2009 demo makes for some fascinating posterity.

I Plead the Fifth exudes a casual attitude that one would expect from a demo of this nature, but there is clear professionalism at work. While the production quality is obviously not at album level, the mix is clean with plenty of basic rock-solid rhythms and crunchy guitar riffs throughout. The vocals don’t sound too bad either for how strung out Liebling was at the time, though they’re more in line with the slurred swagger of Show ‘Em How than the more reflective croak seen on Last Rites.

When looking at the songwriting, it must be made clear that these tracks are more ideas than properly fleshed out songs. Structures are predominately based around a single riff or two with minor elaborations and dedicated spaces for guitar solos, while the vocals fluctuate between pre-established lines and aimless ad-libbing. Nothing feels complete as the more linear ideas eventually lose their momentum while the more developed structures could use extra conviction, but nothing is outright unpleasant.

And with that in mind, there are good ideas here. It’s clear to see why the bookending tracks “I’m Takin’ No More” and “South of the Swamp” were the closest to album inclusion as the former starts things with a great buildup while the latter puts in an exceptionally heavy doom grind. The power of hindsight makes it hard to imagine any of these as honest to gods Pentagram songs, but Sherman could’ve easily repurposed some of this stuff for Earthride or Weed is Weed.

For a series of one-take demos that likely weren’t ever intended for public listening, Bobby Liebling’s Ram Family isn’t too bad. The musicians never get into a proper groove and it’s pretty clear to see why these ideas ultimately went unused. It’s fun to imagine what an album in this vein would’ve sounded like, but there must’ve been some serious tooth pulling for it to even materialize at this level. Oh, to be a fly on the wall…

Highlights:
“I’m Takin’ No More”
“South of the Swamp”