Mitch Ryder – The Promise

by Janet Goodman

It’s a homecoming of sorts for Mitch Ryder, one of the great R&B vocalists; his music is back at last on American soil. For years he’s toured abroad, supporting fourteen albums released in Germany, and the new CD “The Promise” is his first U.S. release in nearly thirty years. Not since his 1983 “Never Kick A Sleeping Dog,” produced by Mellencamp, has the Detroit Wheels’ frontman (“Devil With A Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly,” “Sock It To Me Baby”) let his countrymen have it with his powerhouse whiskey-and-smokes vocals.

Fellow Detroiter, uber producer Don Was leads a group of A-list musicians to create tracks that are one-half classic Motown, one-half contemporary soulful rock. Recorded in L.A., not Motor City, on Ryder’s own Michigan Broadcasting Corporation label, these eleven originals and one cover offer a broad brush of themes, from saying no to an addict of any stripe (“Junkie Love”), to the state of world affairs (“The Way We Were”), to growing older (“One Hair”).

High-stepping out of the gate with funktafied “Back Then,” Ryder wows with a delivery that squeezes out every last drop of emotion, showing gratitude for his upbringing. His scratchy vocal scoops, his charged-up growling oomph make him a male Mavis Staples, if you will, adding to the joyous feel of the record.

Surprise stand-outs have stripped, rock arrangements, such as the Santana-esque, moody-vibed “Everybody Loses,” where Ryder’s voice naturally hits a bass note as he exhales the end of a line of lyric, and on the piano ballad “Crazy Beautiful,” his sensitive approach skims across shimmering waters. A cover of Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” is recorded live in concert, and Ryder reins in his warm performance until the outro, where he can’t take it anymore, and lets us know how he really feels.

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