Without getting into all the dirt and rehashing old wounds, I think it's safe to say that when British band Babe Ruth decided to pack up shop in 1976, they didn't actually go out on a high note. A mere three years after releasing their stellar debut album First Base things slowly began to go south due to a serious of unforeseen circumstances and personnel changes. The band hit rock bottom when founding member Alan Shacklock decided that he had had enough in 1975. Fast forward approximately thirty years and Babe Ruth have seemingly done the impossible; they've reunited with the classic era lineup of Shacklock (guitars), vocalist Janita Haan, keyboardist Dave Punshon, bassist Dave Hewitt and drummer Ed Spevock. As if this wasn't surprising enough, their brand new album entitled Que Pasa remarkably finds them in many ways picking up right where First Base left off, and yet they've also brought their sound right up to date in the process.
While not exactly what you'd call progressive rock, Babe Ruth's sound was always a formidable blend of straight ahead classic rock, R&B, soul, Spanish influences, with classical orchestrations thrown into the mix as well. On Que Pasa another influence, hip hop, has been added to their diverse sounding musical gumbo. The reason for this is quite simple; it's their way of giving back to the whole B-boy culture that helped keep their music alive during their time out of the spotlight, as one of their most famous songs "The Mexican" off of First Base went on to become a hit with the breakers in the late 70's and early 80's, when DJ's like Kool Herc were spinning the record at house parties in the Bronx.
The familiar western themes are back in full force throughout opening track "4 Dear Life", a barnburner of a track that signals the much heralded return of our heroes. The title track, the first of six tracks to utilize the skills of turntablist DJ Kidsmeal, finds Haan purring her sultry tale as Shacklock's acoustic guitar and Punshon's electric piano creates pure magic as they intertwine effortlessly. Oh...but it's the third song "The Sun, Moon & Stars" where the band really kicks things into the stratosphere. Drummer Ed Spevock gets right into the pocket and lays down a solid groove while Shacklock and Punshon deliver something fans of the band haven't heard since that first album, which are those glorious dual harmony lines that were such a big part of Babe Ruth's sound. The same approach is employed to great effect on "Break For The Border", which is the lyrical follow up to "The Mexican". This song not only highlights some sizzling Spanish style guitar and a smoking solo from Shacklock, but also features plenty of additional percussive accents from Spevock.
In addition to not only writing some great music, principal writer Alan Shacklock has also some spun some masterful prose as well, and vocalist Janita Haan rises to the occasion as she belts out "Doncha Wanna Dance", "4 Letter Word" and "The Blues" (two songs with fabulous horn arrangements by the way) with her typical aplomb. While her vocal pyrotechnics are toned down a bit from the bands glory days, trust me this woman hasn't lost one ounce of her vocal power, and she sounds as potent as she ever has.
There's just so much to like about a record like that is as musically diverse as Que Pasa is. While some die hard fans might not appreciate the turntable scratching and hip hop styled beats on some tracks I think the average, open minded music fan will be able to appreciate what the band is trying to do here. By picking up a few new influences along the way and infusing them with the classic Babe Ruth sound that we've all come to know and love, they can at last say they've delivered a worthy successor to that classic debut album.
1) 4 Dear Life
2) Que Pasa
3) The Sun, Moon & Stars
4) Mother Tongue (Pt1)
6) Mother Tongue (Pt2)
7) Doncha Wanna Dance
8) Break For The Border
9) Killer Smile
10) 4 Letter Word
11) The Blues
12) The Mexican Millennium (Pt1)
13) Santa Ana
14) The Mexican Millennium (Pt2)