December 9, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part 37...

As we get closer and closer to the final Golden LP Series installment we've made it to studio album 37 in the career of Ray Stevens. This particular release appeared in the summer of 2009...I'll always remember this because when it was released it was only available exclusively at Pilot fuel centers across the country. Pilot, one of the various chain stores open 24 hours and closely associated with truck drivers, carried the CD for several months before it was widely distributed. It was never available in the two Pilot centers in my area and so I was left to wait until after Labor Day 2009 before it became available in all the on-line stores and at Ray's web-store.

The project, One for the Road, features 15 recordings. Five of those recordings had been previously released, three more were new interpretations of older songs from his catalog, while the remaining seven were new to the project. Why am I counting this as a "studio album" whereas I didn't count 2002's Osama Yo' Mama as a studio album? The reason is simple: the 2002 project only featured one never before available recording, "Freudian Slip", while the rest of the CD was filled out with songs Ray recorded in 2000 for a limited release CD along with the 2001 recordings of "Osama Yo' Mama" and "United We Stand". One for the Road, by comparison, features 7 new songs instead of only 1 new song.

This advertisement is what was sitting, face down, on the seats at a venue where Ray did a concert. I believe it was at the Little Nashville Opry in Nashville, Indiana. When you walked to your seats you saw little strips of paper sitting on them. When you turned the paper over you saw this advertisement for Ray's upcoming One for the Road and it's exclusive availability at Pilot. There were souvenirs, of course, at the merchandise table. One of the items were pictures of Ray during the photo session for the CD cover. I bought a few of the pictures and I've posted them before. The physical copy of the CD has art work to make it look like a semi truck tire. On the back of the CD there's the list of 15 songs and a comical image of Ray sitting on the step up the semi's door. The track list isn't comprised of just 'truck driver songs' but more or less it's a traveler's companion as most of the songs deal with experiences while on the road either as a profession or as an everyday motorist going from point A to point B. The trucker mood is set during the first song and it continues through track three. The opening track, "Concrete Sailor", is excellent. Penned by Buddy Kalb, Ray sings about the trials and tribulations of many over-the-road truck drivers who live lonesome lives and how it's almost a miracle for most to balance their job and have a healthy family life. The imagery of a truck driver's command of the road being equivalent to a ship's captain is felt within the soaring music/arrangement. This sad song is followed by the extreme opposite in the trucker's anthem, "Convoy", the legendary song made famous by C.W. McCall. Ray does a wonderful job capturing the mood of the original while "Right Reverend Road Hog McGraw" samples some of the hilarity of an earlier Ray Stevens classic, "The Dooright Family". In the song about the right reverend we're told a fascinating story about a preacher who uses the trucker's airwaves to conduct sermons and preach about any potential sinning and bad habits lurking in the shadows. Track four, "Cooter Brown", is an uptempo song about an alcoholic who doesn't really seem to care much about any of life's problems or his own drinking problem and instead prefers to celebrate life to the fullest no matter the consequences. It's got an early rock-n-roll feel in the Jerry Lee Lewis vein. This is followed by another alcohol enriched story, "Jack Daniels, You Lied To Me Again".

In the tradition of story songs that comment on or expose fictional small town secrets we have the great recording, "Hangin' Around". Ray sings about a woman named Sadie who eventually went insane. The music offers a great atmosphere as the story unfolds as Ray tells us that we wouldn't want to be caught all by ourselves in a certain Georgia town. Ray co-wrote this with Buddy Kalb and in one of the few instances Buddy's name appears first in the songwriter credits. Whenever the two wrote a song together it would always appear Ray Stevens/C.W. Kalb, Jr. in the credits but this time around it's been switched. I don't know if it was intentional or if it was a typo but it's something the casual fan I don't think would even notice. Elsewhere on this project we have an updated take on "Oh, Lonesome Me", then we have the inspirational "Never Too Late" and later on there's the whimsical "Retired". In the latter, Ray sings about the life of a retiree. It was originally recorded by one of the song's writers, Brent Burns, as a duet with Ray. In this project Ray performs the song solo. According to the songwriter credits, Brent Burns wrote the song with another writer named Bill Whyte. Track 12, "Mary Lou Nights", is one of the modern day interpretations of a song from his past. Ray originally recorded this gem of the song in 1983. The 2009 update sounds amazingly faithful to the 1983 original.

The 3 bonus tracks, which make up songs 13, 14, and 15, are later day interpretations of "Mississippi Squirrel Revival", "It's Me Again, Margaret", and "The Streak".

Outside of a write-up and interview in the Pilot newsletter and a mention of it's release in an issue of Country Weekly, this CD slipped by without a lot of publicity. Studio album 38, though, was on the horizon and it offered the sounds of the season in that unique Ray Stevens on the lookout for part 38 of the Golden LP Series!

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