Ray Wilson returns with his brand new stripped back album, “Song For A Friend”. Released on the 3rd June 2016 this album marks a departure for Ray opting for an incredibly fortified denuded production compared to his previous albums.
In some ways Song for a Friend could be dismissed as campfire music due to its country acoustic guitar leaning stance, however it echoes the atmosphere Ray generated way back to his acoustic live album An Audience with Ray Wilson from 2006.
Whilst there are no witty or insightful in between stories as found with An Audience with Ray Wilson, here in 2016 with Song for a friend, Ray demonstrates a depth in terms of material and subject all rolled into an album of 10 songs.
Old Book On The Shelf: The opening track on the album begins with Ray in classic storytelling mode, with a character driven song.
The track has clear analogies and meaning depending on how you interpret the lyrics. In the press sheet synopsis Ray describes the theme as a guy sitting in an old but small bar in Amsterdam where he looks up at a solitary book on a bookshelf. This book enables the reader to accept himself whilst leafing through the book the reader realises the book is about his own life. When this guy finishes reading the book he realises that all he needs to do is simply be himself. The barman looks across and smiles as this wasn’t the first time a patron had come in and had this revelation from reading this very book. The nature of the story is reminiscent of perhaps many folk writers yet it feels fresh with Ray’s signature gruff birdsong. It is not just Ray with his acoustic guitar, there are some keyboard effects and piano that at times accompanies the rhythm of the acoustic guitar. Overall a perfectly intune opener for the album, if it strikes your fancy you’ll likely be drawn in to love the rest of the album.
Over My Dead Body: Is similar to the theme that Bob Dylan portrays in Positively 4th Street, in which the there is a friendship that has gone sour having once been an integral part of the narrator’s life. This song covers the journey from being an important person to the moment the façade slips with them quitting on you.
“You had your chance and blew it, you threw it away” is clear as daylight with regard to the topic. There are interesting sound effects applied like samples being played backwards for example.
Cold Light Of Day: Has a very accessible approach. It feels like it belongs in the intimate arena of a campfire among friends. With an attentive set of ears if you really think about the lyrics touching on jealousy, bitterness, and resentment the song takes on melancholy initially before the theme really takes hold. It is then that we learn how this is all futile with it only ending up destroying the people who carry these emotions within them and not the person that the emotions are aimed at. It seems either like an ode to a person that needs to learn this lesson or perhaps Ray himself realising this after all, accepting a new truth.
The glisten of slide guitar at times, at first I would have assumed it was a Dobro, added to the sonic palette recalling the slight country twang the album has. The lyric, “So here we are back at the start” seemed to point towards the frustration of a never ending argument that neither party seem to acknowledge is ever to be resolved, hence it begins over in an never ending cycle. An interesting observation by Ray and the chorus including the lines “Don’t you think it’s foolish to burn all of the bridges, don’t you have a better plan that’s based on forgiveness” refer to the futility of the ongoing cycle.
High Hopes: The cover of this Pink Floyd classic was not surprising in some regards because Ray has paid tribute to a number of artists over the years including Bruce Springsteen and David Bowie among many others. Ray manages to put his stamp vocally on this classic track. Alas, its arrangement bears closely to the original yet when you read the reasons behind the choice of this track from the press release does the misty ground become strikingly clear.
As the press sheet clearly points out about High Hopes, A great Pink Floyd song from the Division Bell. Three of my band quit last year and tried to cause a lot of destructive mess when they quit. They failed. This song just seemed to fit, for me. Says what I wanted to say, without me actually writing it. (Press release from publicist)
It was interesting to see Ray continuing to work with drummer / percussionist Nir Z whom he met whilst working with Genesis and long time collaborator Uwe Metzler whom to my knowledge came into Ray’s circle during the writing / recording of the 2006 Stiltskin album SHE. Lawrie McMillan resumes Bass duties having been another long time serving member of Ray’s touring band who are trying to be the hardest working band in terms of touring in the last decade. New member Kool Lyczek plays Piano, Hammond organ and Mellotron organ to flesh out the songs from an entirely pure acoustic feel or add to the atmosphere when required.
01. Old Book on the Shelf
02. Over my Dead Body
03. Cold Light of the Day
04. Song for a Friend
05. How Long is too Long
06. Not Long till Springtime
07. Backseat Driving
08. Parallel Souls
09. Tried and Failed
10. High Hopes
Barring High Hopes there are nine original songs of original material with information included via a press sheet but for some reason these are excluded from the final album art. I suppose Ray potentially took the idea that once a song is released it becomes the emotional property of the person listening to it thus the person who hears it adapts their own meaning or circumstances to fit the words and music.
It would be nice to see Ray Wilson tour the UK soon to promote this album and some of the themes within the album. Overall, it is personally underwhelming in some regards as it is a very retreated Ray and songs to match. Nevertheless, certain songs are absolute growers and in time will feel like classic Ray tracks. It is the sort of album that unveils itself under a live setting where you can hang on to the atmosphere. Ray’s voice is stunning throughout and the production is clean and classic, with a few little bits of trickery thrown in.
Many thanks to Sharon Chevin for her assistance with review materials.