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RAYMEN (Buy CDs by this artist)
Going Down to Death Valley (Ger. Rebel) 1985
Desert Drive (Ger. Rebel) 1986
Tonight the Raymen: From the Trashcan to the Ballroom (Blue Turtle) 1988

Imagine a band playing Cramps-type stuff, somewhere out in the heartland. Now imagine that heartland's in Germany, and you'll have some idea of how bizarre the Raymen are. The guitar-bass-drums-singer dementobilly combo hails from Dortmund, which has been described as Deutschland's Gary, Indiana; maybe they're not as inspired as the Cramps or Shockabilly, but fun anyhow.

The first LP is charmingly wacked-out and trashy. One leader of the hit parade is "I'm a Hillbilly Werewolf," which Hank Ray sings with as much sincerity as anyone could muster for such a song. (His heavily echoed baritone typically hits the right notes at least two-thirds of the time.) The title track is the Raymen's idea of traditional cowboy country music (where they're usually most effective) and includes suitably strange slide guitar. Axeman Martin Toulouse uses feedback, slide, fuzzbox and twang-bar to excellent noisemaking effect throughout the LP (if anything, not often enough). A so-horrible-it's-grand rendition of "Locomotion" completes the picture.

Desert Drive isn't as good. The new rhythm section is an improvement, but the material doesn't hold up. Toulouse puts down his slide and doesn't go wild as often. Ray is most fun when he's frantically stuttering and echoing every word into complete unintelligibility, which doesn't happen much here.

The third album continues both trends. There's more music (seventeen tracks on two 45 rpm discs) but less frenzy from Ray and less craziness from Toulouse (if it's he — guitar is credited to Junior Ray). When he does let it all hang out, as on "Saturn Doll," it sounds like it could well be our man. There's still some of the crew's trademark wigginess, but only on half the tracks; they do, however, take the time to bludgeon the Contours' "Do You Love Me" into complete submission.

[Jim Green]