Scott Miller is a certifiable genius, and the Loud Family was for a decade the best band going. Now that the band has decided to call it quits, this live document arrives as a kind of post-mortem report. If this were still the good old days, From Ritual to Romance would be a double-live album; there are more than 70 minutes of music in its grooves. Capturing two separate incarnations, it's an ample summary. The first version is the band that made the sonic-sex masterpiece Interbabe Concern in 1996; the second is the one that made Days for Days (perhaps its best) in '98. Stalwart bassist/Miller-collaborator Kenny Kessel is included on both. All the material was recorded in their San Francisco stomping grounds, making this the perfect sendoff from a band that made the Bay Area its spiritual as well as geographic home.
Proffering equal parts dementia, melancholy, angst, and humor, the Loud Family was a post-modern gem that consistently delivered fine-cut jewels of shimmering tunefulness. Credit Miller, the ultimate modern melodic craftsman, given his equally brilliant output in the '80s with Game Theory. We're now talking an enduring talent who has actually outlasted Lennon/McCartney and Brian Wilson, consistently delivering the goods (not to mention lesser lights like Todd Rundgren or Elvis Costello, whom Miller initially emulated but now by far outranks in the annals of smart-pop).
What From Ritual to Romance -- as well as the couple of times this writer has actually seen Miller live -- proves is that, despite its extremely well-wrought qualities as a recording unit, the Loud Family is equally skilled in front of an audience, and most of these performances are note-perfect renditions. The addition of organ grinder Allison Faith Levy in the second incarnation of the band gives it the edge, and the best performances here -- like a roaring version of Game Theory's "Not Because You Can" and the somewhat-psychedelic "Good, There Are No Lions in the Street," featuring brilliant vocal and instrumental interactions between Miller and Levy.
The only bad news: This is the first time we don't get a dose of new Scott Miller tunes, a fact made even sadder because the Family is finished.