Nashville-based ’80s alternative rockers Raging Fire are back with a blazing selection of nine recordings on their new album, These Teeth Are Sharp, hitting the streets and available online, on May 12, 2017. The album follows the 2015 release of the critically acclaimed career anthology, Everything Is Roses 1985-1989, which told the story of one of Music City’s most innovative and beloved rock bands.
Raging Fire was formed in 1983, when Nashville underground rock scene veterans Michael Godsey, Mark Medley and Les Shields teamed with vocalistMelora Zaner. Under the name Ring of Fire, the quartet combined the punk/roots rock esthetic of bands like X and the Gun Club with fiercely literate lyrics, invoking Patti Smith filtered through a Southern gothic esthetic. In 1985, they changed their name to Raging Fire and released their first EP, A Family Thing. Over the next four years, the band refined their pop-punk-classic rock sound, garnered critical acclaim for their EP and the 1986 LPFaith Love Was Made Of, and toured extensively throughout the South and Midwest.
In 1987, College Music Journal (CMJ) named Raging Fire one of the top unsigned bands in the U.S. (alongside soon to be superstars the Pixies). Although Raging Fire seemed to be teetering on the edge of stardom, many major labels lacked the insight to understand the band’s unique fusion of a dynamic rock sound with feminist and deeply interpersonal lyrics. It was a classic case of a musical vision ahead of its time, as proven by the ’90s alternative rock explosion. By the end of 1989, the members had moved on to other projects, leaving behind a legacy of powerful, innovative music and the legend of a band that never received its due.
But there would be another chapter to Raging Fire’s story. In 2012, Godsey and Medley began discussing plans for the compilation Everything Is Roses 1985-1989, just months before Godsey’s tragic death from a heart attack. Three years later, Raging Fire honored Godsey’s memory and celebrated the release of the 22-song compilation with a live performance at Nashville’s Exit/In. For that show, Zaner and Medley reunited with three former Raging Fire bass players, Les Shields, John Reed and Rusty Watkins. To fill out the band’s sound, they also recruited friends and contemporaries from the ’80s Nashville rock scene — guitarist and vocalist Joe Blanton (Royal Court of China, The Bluefields), guitarist Jeff Cease (The Black Crowes, Eric Church Band) and keyboardist and electronic music composer Giles Reaves.
“At first, getting on stage and doing a reunion was something that I wasn’t sure I could do,” Zaner says. “It was incredibly emotional for all of us. But when we walked off the stage, Mark and I both said, ‘We’re not done.’ We were always about the art of the song and the stories underneath. There were more stories to tell and some stories to fix.”
With the new line-up from the Exit/In show, the group began cutting tracks in Nashville’s County Qstudios with producer/engineer Mike Purcell. Several songs were drawn from the band’s past, lost gems that had never been fully developed or recorded properly. That was the case with the album’s title track, “These Teeth Are Sharp.”
“That was one of the first songs we wrote when we were still Ring of Fire,” Zaner says. “Mark found a very early recording of it and when I heard it, I said, ‘Oh my God, we gotta do this!’ I think recording it with Joe, Jeff and Giles brought a whole new life and meaning to it. It captured the spirit of everything we’ve been through.”
Other tracks gave the band an opportunity to take previously released songs in a very different direction. That was the case for the smoldering ballad “After Loving One Man From East Texas,” which originally appeared on the band’s 1986 album as a simple acoustic arrangement.
“The version with just Michael on guitar and my vocals was spontaneously captured in the studio,” Zaner says. “We decided to use it on the album at the time, but we only had one scratchy recording of the whole band playing it. Recording it again really gave it new life.”
In addition to bringing a new perspective to older songs, the group also turned their attention to new material, as with the powerhouse statement of purpose “Free to Be,” a song that Zaner was working on with Godsey at the time of his death.
“Michael and I never stopped playing music,” Zaner says. “While we were living in Shanghai, China we started a record label and were working with Chinese artists. ‘Free to Be’ was the last song Michael and I worked on together, but we never finished it. When I played it for Mark, he said there’s a massive hook in there, we just need to refine it. I love it. With times being so political, it speaks to politics, empowerment, and multi-cultural awareness. Every time I sing it, I uncover new meaning.”
Another aspect of Raging Fire’s unique voice is found in the album’s one cover tune, the Rufus Thomas R&B classic “Walking the Dog.”
“I was massively hesitant about recording that song,” Zaner says. “At first Mark wanted to do it likethe Rolling Stones’ version, and I couldn’t find myself in it. It wasn’t me. Jeff said, ‘Let’s talk about this. What are you feeling?’ I said I was hearing it slower. Jeff started playing with it until he found a riff that enabled me to find my voice and my story in the song.”
Throughout the nine songs on These Teeth Are Sharp, the new configuration of Raging Fire burns with fierce punk passion, razor sharp lyricism and a focus and wisdom granted only by rich life experiences. It’s a bold declaration from a band that has chosen to forgo nostalgia over past glories and make their stand here and now.
“Coming together to record this album was a way of finishing something for Michael,” Zaner says. “But it was also a way to honor the people who were there with us at a very exciting time in music. It was a time of great creativity with bands pushing each other to be better musicians, songwriters, storytellers and performers. There’s been a lot of living since those days, but there’s still a lot of living left to do — these teeth are still sharp.”
On Saturday, April 22, Raging Fire will play These Teeth Are Sharp in its entirety outdoors at Nashville’s Grimey’s New & Preloved Music as a part of Record Store Day 2017.
Look for more info on These Teeth Are Sharp at http://www.ragingfire.us