Rabbit Hole

Ruby Topaz

Independent release, 2022


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


You know you’re in for a difficult listen when an artist’s biography describes the lead singer’s “high pitched vocals” as “...[having] on occasion made dogs squirm.”

Such is the case with multi-instrumentalist Mark Bram, who has performed his original music under the stage name Ruby Topaz for several years. The band’s latest disc, Rabbit Hole, tries to be an homage to such artists as Queen, Mott The Hoople and David Bowie in its overall sound, but often ends up being a bit of a scrambled mess.

Bram, who handled all lead vocals, as well as guitars and keyboards, as well as some bass and drum tracks, claims in the press release for this disc that the highness of his vocals were inspired not by early Geddy Lee, but by Robert Plant. (That said, there is the occasional moment where Bram does indeed take on the timber of mid-’70s Lee, such as on “To The Top.”) However, his vocals come off more as if Ian Gillan and Brian Johnson had an illegitimate love child—and the end result is often grating on the eardrums.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The thing is, if you’re into more of a glam rock scene, you will go into Rabbit Hole wanting to like what you’re about to hear… and, though the overall production of the album seems to be mixed too high into the treble range, musically it starts off fairly well. However, as the title track progresses, it’s Bram’s vocals and rambling lyrical style that derail the track. The mixing also occasionally makes it difficult to discern just what Bram is saying, as the words get lost in the sonic sludge.

It’s not that Bram is a bad singer; it’s that the higher range which has become his trademark is also his Achilles’ heel. When he lowers the octave on tracks like “Be My Love,” you get the idea that Ruby Topaz could quite possibly have something going for them.

If there were more moments like this on Rabbit Hole, then this album could have been the springboard to greatness for Ruby Topaz. However, the overreliance on higher-pitched vocals and fascination with mixing to the higher end of the treble range make songs like “D’s Song (I’m Falling In Love Again),” “Straight Ahead” and “Thanks For Nothing” stumble. By the time the CD winds down with “Save Me,” the listener is truly exhausted from the effort.

If Bram were to ask for advice on how to tighten things up for Ruby Topaz—besides trying to use a lower octave more often—it would be to utilize the talents of others to help shape the sound. Yes, drummer Steve D’Andrea contributed to this disc, and bassist Stephen Fassbinder steps into the role for live shows. But if additional musicians were used to record the tracks, and perhaps an outside producer to bring a fresh set of ears to the sound, there could be the foundation of something good for the band. Right now it’s not nearly as obvious.

Rabbit Hole is a disc that seemed to have some promise, and occasionally came through with some good tunes, but in the end feels like Alice tumbling down the disc’s namesake. It has its moments, but overall can’t really be recommended.

Rating: C-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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