‘Lessons Well Learned’ album merges classic rock and unique songwriting

By Dave Coffey

Courtesy Doug Ratner and the Watchmen

A couple years after their full-length debut – 2009’s raucous, rambling “Eye to Eye” – Doug Ratner & the Watchmen have released another album, the condensed EP “Lessons Well Learned.” While it continues “Eye to Eye’s” heavy classic rock worshipping musical themes, “Lessons Well Learned” shows the band at their most focused to date, sporting songwriting largely inspired by social issues on top of their rock-solid sonic foundation.

Similar to “Eye to Eye,” DRAW’s core sound on “Lessons Well Learned” could easily be summed up as throwing AC/DC and the Ramones in a blender and boiling the contents. With meaty drums, grooving bass and searing guitars laying the groundwork, Ratner and the boys have certainly still got it in the simple but sweet hard rock department.

Unlike their debut, however, “Lessons Well Learned” sees the band spread their wings in the songwriting aspect, with lyrics from four out of the album’s five songs focusing on somewhat grander, more big-picture topics than those on “Eye to Eye.” The ferocious album opener “Bomb in the Backseat” is a grinding rocker about a character so fed up with society at large that he builds homemade explosives and devises a devious car-bombing attack.

The exploration of darker themes continues at the album’s mellow midway-point with “Ghost in the Mirror,” a gingerly strummed tune lyrically highlighting problems like bullying, alienation, identity issues and depression in school children. If “Bomb in the Backseat” is the EP’s darkest track, “Ghost” is the other side of the same coin, marking a stark dichotomy of the subdued, reflective narrative behind the violent aggression of the leadoff track.

Perhaps the album’s highest point is a tight cover of prog rock icons Pink Floyd’s hit “Money,” adding the vice of greed to issues raised on “Lessons Well Learned.”

Floyd covers are often amongst the toughest to do justice to, but DRAW does so with gusto, interpreting the spaced-out psychedelic groover in a hustled, barroom-brawl style. Axemen Ratner and Mark Adamski are wise not to try and copycat the legendary guitar work of David Gilmour. Instead, they refashion the lead guitar lines and solos in a fuzzed-out, psych-blues manner perfectly fitting for the fantastically revved-up 7/8 rock shuffle beat played underneath.

The one tune on “Lessons Well Learned” that thrashes about with the lyrical abandon seen previously on their debut is the rowdy closer “Take Me Home,” a Zeppelin-esque rock n’ roll stomp about girls, booze, etc. With an unabashed “woo-ooh-ooh” chorus hook over a galloping guitar line and a sizzling guitar solo, “Take Me Home” may not have the lyrical weight of the other tracks on the EP, but might just be the most fun anyway.

DRAW is still able to channel the earth-shaking classic rock as effectively as ever, but what keeps it interesting is their willingness to do so in ways other tried and true contemporary throwback rock and rollers might sheepishly avoid. The Jimmy Page-alicious riffage of “Take Me Home” and the flawless Floyd cover are obvious successes, but “Ghost in the Mirror” – while perhaps a step or two too far in the direction of public service announcement in the lyrical department – rings out as well as any slow-picked acoustic ballad straight off of Guns N’ Roses’ “Lies.”

Additionally, one of the most surprising moments on the album is the country-swing affair “Do You Remember,” a lyrical and musical homage to days long since gone by. Featuring twangy guitar and a rousing rockabilly beat, this is the Watchmen’s answer to the Stones’ “Country Honk.” Even the harmonies on the vocal hook are classic Jagger and Richards.

“Lessons Well Learned” sees Doug Ratner and the Watchmen still dutifully worshipping at the altar of throwback rock, only this time with an interesting new direction in songwriting.

Dave Coffey can be reached at [email protected]