The back-to-basics rock of Ram Jam proved to be a refreshing sound on the '70s music scene, and this album from the band is an upbeat collection of 20 songs.
Although it was confusingly packaged in nearly identical artwork as Ram Jam's 1977 debut, this career-spanning release is otherwise hard to fault, since it crams all 20 songs from these oft-forgotten late-'70s hard rockers' two LPs onto one compact disc. True, some may accurately argue that Ram Jam's oeuvre was neither consistent, original, nor essential enough to warrant full preservation (no thanks to the studio-manufactured group's tainted reputation as career opportunists), but a shiny plastic disc's a shiny plastic disc -- you may as well get the maximum number of tracks for your buck. Well, careful what you wish for, because after absorbing the band's Top 20 hit with a reconstructed version of Leadbelly's folk-blues, "Black Betty" (still darn near irresistible, despite the racial controversy it stirred up and the rumored poaching of its rambunctious arrangement from underground band Starstruck), die-hard classic rock anthropologists will find slim pickings among Ram Jam's first album fare. For the most part, these reveal a semi-engaged blues-rock "band" pretty much going through the motions while taking odd bits of inspiration from the likes of Bachman-Turner Overdrive ("Keep Your Hands on the Wheel," "Overloaded"), the James Gang ("For the Love of Rock'n'Roll") and, more surprisingly, T. Rex ("Too Bad on Your Birthday"). Much better are the subsequent songs culled from album number two, 1978's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Ram, which show far greater variety and conviction, even while still desperately searching for a clear identity. To wit: the spirit of Aerosmith's driving "Toys in the Attic" reverberates all over hard charging rockers like "Gone Wild," "Pretty Poison" and "Just Like Me"; the gonzo energy of labelmate Ted Nugent fuels the template for "Hurricane Ride"; Thin Lizzy's twin guitar harmonies combine with AOR sheen for the anthemic "Saturday Night"; and the stark piano, somber chords and atypical arranging grandeur displayed by "Turnpike" clearly emulates UFO's "Love to Love," released just one year earlier. So yes, even though it should have been called "Everything You Ever Wanted to Hear from Ram Jam (and Lots More)" there's no denying that The Very Best of Ram Jam provides an honest showcase of the group's highs and lows. ~ Eduardo Rivadavia