The new album from the UK’s most gregarious rock stars is due to be released 3rd March via a freshly signed deal with Barrel and Squidger Records.
When ex-Role Models frontman and songwriter Rich Ragany and the ramshackle crew known as The Digressions released ‘Beyond Nostalgia and Heartbreak‘ at the height of the pandemic in 2021 – not long after the tragic death of Rags’ brother George – they won over a whole new legion of fans and music industry critics with their mix of heartfelt imagery, upbeat tunes, and fragile and honest lyrical themes. ‘…Heartbreak’ was a stunningly beautiful record, filled with so much genuinely brilliant songwriting and performance that we were compelled to call it ‘…the best record The Replacements never made’.
George would have turned sixty this year, and it’s therefore perhaps fitting that new album ‘What We Do (To Not Let Go)’ seems to take ‘…Heartbreak’ in a tender, loving hand, shake it up to let the very best bits float to the top (and bear in mind, there were a LOT of ‘best bits’), and then say ‘ok. That’s enough of looking back. Let’s do it this way instead’. That’s in no way a criticism; more an acknowledgment that Rags, and the Digressions generally, seem to have learned where their considerable strengths lie and focussed even harder on them this time around. And when you have strengths like Rags’ emotive vocal delivery and poetic lyric-writing, the soaring second vocals of one-woman tempest Kit Swing (Seven Days and Doesn’t Die), Gaff‘s lead guitars (Desperate Measures and Glitterati), and the incredible dynamic rhythm partnership of Ricky McGuire (UK Subs and The Men They Couldn’t Hang) and Simon Maxwell (The Yo-Yos and Ragany’s old sparring partner in The Role Models) along with keyboards and additional guitars and vocals from album producer Andy Brook (The Middlenight Men and acclaimed producer at The Brook Studio, where ‘What We Do…’ was recorded) that’s … well, that’s a hell of a roster.
But all that potential talent is worth little without the songs and the space to allow them to breathe … and on ‘What We Do…’ both are present in abundance. What’s immediately apparent is that The Digressions have grown as a band – that weird magic that great acts have where the unit’s somehow bigger than the component parts – and focussed on everyone doing what they do best. Some of that widescreen, panoramic sweeping epic-ness of ‘…Heartbreak’ has gone, replaced instead with a vibrant immediacy that catches you from the first notes of album opener and title track right through to the closing echoes of Ragany’s solo guitar-and-vocal outro tune.
Two words spring to mind, repeatedly, throughout ‘What We Do…’ – ‘eclecticism’ and ‘personality’. Both come through time and again throughout the record, from the folky Americana vibes of One More For The Train and Highgate Sun, through the mellow balladeering of Shade Of Shameless, The End Of All Things, and the darker Waiting, to the full on anthemic rock n’ roll of You’re My Way Back Home, Pretty Breeze, and first single One Last Thing To Prove. Sure, there’s the expected Replacements influences on What We Do (To Not Let Go) and Til I’m On My Feet Again, but this is a more varied and open record than ‘Beyond Nostalgia and Heartbreak‘, as much the Stones, Johnny Thunders, and the Stooges as it’s Tom Petty, Steve Earle, or The Jayhawks. The Digressions can still pull nostalgic tears from you with complete impunity, but they can kick serious rock ass when they feel like it, too. Make no mistake about it; this is already one of the best records of 2023.
‘What We Do (To Not Let Go)‘ is out on Barrel and Squidger Records on the third of March – pre-orders are live now via MusicGlue. Rich Ragany and the Digressions play album launch shows at The Parish, Huddersfield on March 3rd and the Camden Assembly (London) on March 4th, and The Southall Lawless Stage of Call Of The Wild Festival in Lincolnshire on May 27th.
Rich Ragany and the Digressions – What We Do (To Not Let Go)
- What We Do (To Not Let Go)
- You’re My Way Back Home
- How Much Of Me Is You?
- One More For The Train
- Til I’m On My Feet Again
- The End Of All Things
- Highgate Sun
- One Last Thing To Prove
- Pretty Breeze
- Shade Of Shameless
- Forever Ghosts