At first listen, the opening notes of We Ragazzi’s “Walking Before All Shadows” could be downtempo electronica — a solid groove, steady beats and no glaringly discordant elements. But then the guitar kicks in, slicing through the bassy groove with some high-end skronk. The formula is completed with the sassy, rock `n’ roll vocals of Tony Rolando (not to be confused with Tony Orlando), sounding like a cross between Mick Jagger, Ted Leo and Gun Club’s Jeffrey Lee Pierce.
This is how We Ragazzi operates. They’re not so much one band, but a combination of three, combining equal parts no-wave, new wave and good old fashioned rock `n’ roll. On their third album, Wolves With Pretty Lips, the three seemingly disparate elements simultaneously create harmony and chaos, resulting in a sonic maelstrom of bassy organ, syncopated beats and dissonant guitar leads. The aforementioned Gun Club reference is fitting, as Rolando howls as if possessed by voodoo at times. But elsewhere, he can be slightly more subdued, though never completely.
Lyrically, Rolando favors sexed-up but frightening verses like “I got a pretty little job/of making your heart beat” on “Pretty Little Job.” And he even takes his nastiness to an Orwellian level on “When Young Lovers Have No Place to Go,” when he sings “there’s a place we could be/if you wanna get in the bushes with me.” It should also be mentioned that “Lovers” features one of Rolando’s most kickass guitar riffs, a rhythmically odd hybrid of Rowland Howard and Marc Ribot.
For all of Rolando’s theatrics and show-boating, however, it’s Colleen Burke’s keyboard that really hold the songs together. On “Walking Before All Shadows,” her playing is smooth and simple. And on “Lovers,” she carries the song with a gothic, baroque melody. But her most unforgettable moment is on “Bels,” where she plays a solid and straightforward, but sinister lead, leaving no room for Rolando’s guitar to overshadow.
We Ragazzi doesn’t really make sense on paper. And sometimes (though very rarely) it doesn’t work out in practice. But when this Chicago trio does it right, they’re a force to be reckoned with. And if you happen to invite Brian Eno, Jack White and Nick Cave to a party in the near future, and you want to keep them all happy, you’d be best advised to play this record.
Gun Club – Fire of Love
Enon – High Society
Pleasure Forever – Alter
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.