Cutouts Gone Wild!: The Grays, “Ro Sham Bo”

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The Grays – Ro Sham Bo (1994)
purchase this album (Amazon)

You’ve known this was coming since last week, when I promised an album from the great lost power-pop group of the ’90s. (Well, most of you did, anyway. I’m not sure what the person who guessed “Damn Yankees” was thinking.)

If you’ve never heard of the Grays, well, you’re in pretty much the same boat as everyone else; despite a stellar pedigree, a generous helping of Epic-assisted buzz, and no shortage of fawning from critics and pop nerds all over the planet, Ro Sham Bo was a commercial nonstarter.

There were good reasons for this. First, and probably most importantly, the guys who made up the Grays Jason Falkner, Jon Brion, Buddy Judge, and Dan McCarroll were, and had always been, out of step with commercial trends. Falkner was a member of the Three O’Clock and Jellyfish, and Brion had done time with ‘Til Tuesday (not to mention session work for surprise! Jellyfish), which should tell you everything you need to know about their luck as recording artists.

There was also the problem of being in a band in the first place specifically, that all four members professed to hate it. Falkner, for one, had vowed never to join another band after leaving Jellyfish. Still, the quartet went into Ro Sham Bo with the best of intentions, seeking to avoid any ego-dug pitfalls by dividing songwriting and performing duties more or less evenly. Epic, meanwhile, was doubtless hoping that the sales sum of the band would be more than its parts.

Snake eyes on both rolls, obviously.

Critics, of course, lined up in droves, and Jellyfish fans still grieving over that band’s untimely demise (all two dozen of them) were in the tank for the Grays before they’d heard a single note. I think MTV might have even given an airing or two to the video for “Very Best Years” (embedding disabled say it with me now: Fuck you, Sony/BMG). All for naught. Like their album, the Grays were a blip on the radar, and all four members were quickly on to other projects.

I’ve always been sort of baffled that Ro Sham Bo has remained out of print; not only do Brion, Falkner, and (to a lesser extent) Judge have name value in pop circles, but damn near everything is in print these days matter of fact, the first Damn Yankees record is getting the reissue treatment in a couple of weeks. I can only guess that legal issues (or disinterest on the part of the various band members) has kept the album in limbo. And anyway, it isn’t as though having an album go out of print is unusual for any of these guys. Most of Falkner’s stuff has faded in and out of availability, Brion’s solo record went through years of label bullshit before he finally put it out himself, and Judge’s lone album the intriguingly titled Profiles in Clownhenge, which I learned of this morning and now must hear is rare enough to command in the neighborhood of $20 for a used copy.

(McCarroll, meanwhile, went against stereotype the drummer became a record executive, doing A&R and publishing work.)

So what about Ro Sham Bo, anyway? For me personally and I know this will be pop heresy for many of you it’s … okay. I’ve owned and sold this album at least twice, and although I definitely appreciate the songs more now than I did when the album came out, all things considered, I’d rather be listening to Spilt Milk. (Not really a fair comparison, I know but who said pop was fair?)

Don’t take my word for it, though since the album is still fetching $10+ used, I figured I’d just put the whole thing up here for you to download and enjoy. Drink in that sweet mid-’90s pop, folks and meet me back here next week for a look at the terribly depressing state of soul music in 1988!

The Grays – Very Best Years
The Grays – Everybody’s World
The Grays – Same Thing
The Grays – Friend Of Mine
The Grays – Is It Now Yet
The Grays – Oh Well Maybe
The Grays – Nothing Between Us
The Grays – Both Belong
The Grays – Nothing
The Grays – Not Long For This World
The Grays – Spooky
The Grays – All You Wanted
The Grays – No One Can Hurt Me




  • Stephe Sykes

    the JB songs on RSB are incredible. I've loved this record since I saw these guys at Local 186 in Boston in '94

  • WHarrisBullzEye

    Actually, the Buddy Judge record is still in print through Q Division. Just head over here to pick it up for $12 + postage:

    http://www.qdivisionrecords.com/store/

    Brought to you by the Society to Prevent Cutouts (SoPrevCo).

  • dslifton

    Nice take. I admire it, but like so much else from Falkner, have found it too inscrutible to really get into it.

    Beavis & Butthead also took The Very Good Years apart, making fun of the melodic hook into the chorus and calling it a cross between Stone Temple Pilots and “my nads.” I wonder if that had any negative effect on sales.

  • David_E

    Pretty good record, though I'm with you – my love of Jellyfish made me buy this. My ears made me wish it was better.

    And for the record, I was not the one to say “Damn Yankees.” Even though Tommy Shaw was approached by Jon Brion a few years back to form a new group with Robert Manning and ha ha ha even I can't go on with a straight face.

  • http://www.bullz-eye.com DavidMedsker

    I'm with you, Jefito. I like the Brion songs, but the rest was underwhelming. I saw one of Brion's legendary Largo shows in 2002, and was stunned when he started banging out “Same Thing” on the piano.

  • jsd

    I'm a big fan of Jason Falkner but I've never heard this. Thanks for sharing!

  • JohnHughes

    Total agreement – saw the video for “Very Best Years,” freaked out, bought it immediately, listened to it maybe, four times, then shelved it.

    Love Brion and Falkner, but not this. Heretic!

  • http://onthetrailofthegreat.blogspot.com Spence

    It's an interesting one, for sure. When I was in the grip of a major Falkner trip about five years ago, I took advice from someone in the know that Ro Sham Bo was the greatest album ever. I've really tried to enjoy it over the years, but aside from Very Best Years and Same Thing, it just doesn't grab me.

    Now, Falkner's solo records are a different beast entirely, and Can You Still Feel might just be one of *the* greatest guitar pop records ever. His latest is a bit of a damp squib, mind :(

  • Darren

    aside from the CD being kinda lame, the CD art was Toad-The-Wet-Sprocket bad.

  • George

    I believe it was me who was jonesing for some “Damn Yankees.” I also guessed Bad English for what it's worth.

    Side note….I interviewed Ted Nugent some years back and he was thinking of reforming D.Y. because he was ready for some more “Damn Yankin'” as he called it. He also talked a lot about hunting which I guess shouldn't be too much of a shock.

  • http://www.popdose.com jefito

    Dude, if you see Nuge again, will you punch him in the jimmy for me? Thanks.

  • Breadalbane

    I'll add to the chorus here, and opine that (whole) < (sum of parts).

    But when I first came across this album in the 90s, I thought that “Both Belong” could have been a hit. And I still think it could have been a hit.

  • Pete

    I agree-it seems like many of the label art departments in the early 90s were really in a sad state of design. Blech.

  • http://www.yarnivore.com/francis Francis

    I like the Falkner songs on this and not much else. (Those would be: “Very Best Years,” “Friend of Mine,” “Oh Well Maybe,” “Both Belong,” and “Spooky.”)

  • http://www.myhmphs.com peterlee43

    “Both Belong” still ranks near the top of my all-time favorites. Although I've never been a huge fan of Jason Falkner's solo work, I think his songs are stellar on Ro Sham Bo. And when Jon Brion's not so quirky and inventive, he can write a great rock song.

  • Old_Davy

    I'm stepping out on the ledge and admitting that I for one, LOVE LOVE LOVE this album. It was in constant rotation in my car stereo for about 18 months, and I just couldn't hear it enough. Jason's slightly off-base sense of melody coupled with Jon's excellent production skills is a match made in power pop heaven. The guitar work on the record is superb and the CD sounds great cranked up i.e. not mastered too loudly, like 99.99% of CD's today. Hell, ALL the instruments are played masterfully, and it really sounds like a full-fledged BAND to me. I only became aware of the individual member's pedigrees after hearing The Grays as a band.

    Is there a sweeter chorus than the one in “Friend of Mine”? How about those long intros to “Everybody's World” and “No One Can Hurt Me” – pretty trippy, huh? “Very Best Years” and “Oh Well Maybe” should have ruled the charts, and probably would have…in 1976.

    Honestly, I do think the album tends to drag about 3/4 the way in (“Not Long For This World” and “Spooky” are two tracks I usually skip) and I wish they had included just ONE “Nothing” song since they both use the same lyrical pun to get the point across. Brion's voice tends to sound a bit wimpy after a while, but these criticisms are minor when the whole of the album is so terrific.

    I bought it knowing absolutely nothing about it, based solely on a short blurb in the Columbia House CD Club catalog and was so pleasantly surprised at how good it was that it continues to occupy a special place in my musical heart to this day.

    Now, how about some Owsley or Tommy Keene??

  • George

    Will do.

  • hagen

    H. I was close. Not the worst album at all, but the vocals too often reminded me of Kevin Gilbert, whose stuff was superior in every way to this disc. Hey, that'd be a quick Idiot's Guide, wouldn't it? Two solo albums interrupted by a wanky-choke death, with a great project before and a live disc after.

  • http://www.popdose.com jefito

    It would be a quickie. I bet our pal Dawayne Bailey could do it up right — he's the biggest Gilbert fan I know…

  • hagen

    I might be taller.

  • 360sound

    Sounds like I might be the 'heretic' here instead, but I have to go along with Old Davy on this one – this is a great album – much preferred to the bombastic “Night At The” – er , sorry – “Spilt Milk”, and Falkner's enjoyable but increasingly spotty later solos. Not every track is a winner, but “Friend Of Mine”, “Same Thing” and both “Nothings” are top-drawer 90's power pop, standouts in a very crowded field at the time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=679113018 MichaelWSP

    It's true! When I started playing it I was like “I know this. I *absolutely* know this. Where do I know this from?”

    Then they got to the little scalar run up to the chorus and I was like “Beavis and Butthead! They HATED this song!”

    Didn't they hate Jellyfish too? Did Mike Judge single-handedly destroy the 90's power pop movement?

  • Pingback: Quick Hits - Dave Grohl, Stone Temple Pilots, Rick Astley, and more()

  • http://mulberrypanda96.blogspot.com rwcass

    Are Mike and Buddy Judge estranged siblings? That could explain everything.

  • Dave Low

    Any chance you can bring these links back to life?

  • Dave Low

    Any chance you can bring these links back to life?

  • Dave Low

    Any chance you can bring these links back to life?

  • billybadbum

    Actually, Buddy Judge isn't his real name….

  • http://www.facebook.com/timothy.minneci Timothy David Minneci

    Check out a podcast review of Ro Sham Bo by The Grays on Dig Me Out at digmeoutpodcast.com, a weekly podcast dedicated to reviewing lost and forgotten rock of the 90s.