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(62.04, Neurosis Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Taken Control 4:26 2. The Jokes On Me 6:17 3. Something a Little More Original 6:42 4. Red Tape 4:13 5. Standing in Harms Way 7:47 6. Sgt Pepperspray 5:20 7. In the Real World 4:10 8. Reservations in Cell-3 5:42 9. The Voices 6:44 10. Until the End 6:41 11. Reality Replaces the Symbol 5:22 LINEUP: Rick Ray – guitars; vocals Rick Schultz – reeds Paul Geltch – drums Wally Spisak – bass; vocals Dennis Corrigan – lead vocals; harmonica
Prolusion. Based in Ohio (USA), guitarist RICK RAY is a veteran of the US live circuit, having begun his activity as a musician in 1976. Since 1999 he has been releasing a staggering number of albums (32 so far, including his work with other bands such as Neurotic and Riot Act) on his Neurosis Records label. “The Setlist” was recorded live during a 5-hour studio jam in April 2009. Some of the songs on the album belong to Ray’s back catalog, while others are new.
Analysis. Rick Ray has been making music since 1976, and he has been doing it in his own terms. Though his massive back catalogue may be obscure for the majority of people, over the past thirty years he has been peddling his brand of progressive- and psychedelic-tinged bluesy, jazzy hard rock on US stages, supporting a large number of well-known bands and artists. He is one of those musicians who does not care about trends, and keeps on doing what he wants even if it does not earn him fame or fortune. Not being familiar with Ray’s previous output, I cannot judge “The Setlist” against his other releases, so I will base my review exclusively on what I have heard on this album. Being a big fan of classic hard rock, my first impression of this disc was a positive one – especially after hearing so much music pretending to be innovative, listening to somebody who is proud of playing something that many would consider dated can be very refreshing. The Rick Ray Band call their music ‘psychedelic progressive hard rock fusion’, a somewhat laboured definition which, nonetheless, rings at least partly true. Their sound is unabashedly, unashamedly rooted in the great Seventies tradition, though it does not feel musty or stuck in a time warp. There is a definite feel of enthusiasm and love for their craft in the band’s music, and also a keen concern for real-world issues in their lyrics – something that might be a tad off-putting for some listeners, and exciting for others. Though The Rick Ray Band has opened for a whole lot of classic American hard rock outfits (including my beloved Blue Oyster Cult), the closest comparison that came to my mind while listening to “The Setlist” was a very different band – seminal British jazz-rock combo Colosseum. Actually, this is a five-piece just like Colosseum’s, though lacking the contribution of a keyboardist. Unlike the British outfit, the sound of the RRB is based on the interplay between Rick Ray’s fluid guitar work and Rick Schultz’ assertive reeds, though, just like Colosseum, they incorporate elements of jazz, psychedelia and traditional progressive rock into an essentially blues-rock context. Dennis Corrigan’s gruff, expressive vocal style compounds the impression, though he sounds more like vintage Eric Bloom than either of the British band’s vocalists, James Litherland and Chris Farlowe. So far, so good… However, in spite of its overall high level of quality, the album is not perfect. Running time-wise, it is not above the current norm, being a couple of minutes above an hour. Its main problem, in my view, is that after a while the songs start to get a tad too alike for comfort. Though more than adequate, Corrigan’s vocals do not have a very broad range, and, structurally speaking, the tracks do not display a lot of variety. Not surprisingly, the best compositions are the aptly-titled instrumental Something a Little More Original – an exhilarating, almost 7-minute, jazzy instrumental with plenty of twists and turns, and great performances from all the musicians involved. The interplay between sax and guitar is particularly remarkable, bolstered by the brilliant performance of the rhythm section. The longest track on the album, the almost 8-minute Standing in Harms Way, starts in a jazzy mood, then develops into a full-tilt blues song, complete with a harmonica solo. On the other hand, Sergeant Pepperspray (one of the already-released tracks) blends jazz-rock stylings with psychedelia, as emphasized by the use of wah-wah effects in the opening guitar solo. As can be expected, Ray’s guitar shines right at the forefront, his fluid, expressive style reminiscent of such great hard rock/blues axemen as Robin Trower or Frank Marino (for both of whom the RRB opened in the past), though the extended soloing and power chords do not disguise the jazzy, progressive structure of most of the songs. On the other hand, ass previously hinted, while the rhythm section and brass/reeds are outstanding throughout, Dennis Corrigan’s voice lacks versatility, which lends a somewhat samey quality to the songs. The album is nonetheless a worthwhile proposition, especially for those listeners who prize the feeling and spontaneity of classic rock above the search for innovation.
Conclusion. A very pleasing, well-performed listen, “The Setlist” is very likely to be appreciated by fans of classic, guitar-based rock, as well as those who favour those instances of progressive rock which blend jazz-rock stylings with more energetic, harder-edged sounds. As my review states rather clearly, nothing innovative should be expected – just some lovingly-crafted, old-school music with an uplifting feel and some interesting lyrical concerns.
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