December 3, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part 33...

We're now up to studio album 33 in the career of Ray Stevens. Issued in 2004, this particular album features wall to wall ballads and not a whisper of a novelty or comedy lyric in sight. Thank You contains 11 tracks...10 vocal and 1 instrumental. The closing track, the instrumental, is titled "Boogie Woogie" and is played on the piano by one named Clarence Smith. This is the first studio album from Ray Stevens since 1983 to feature ballads only and it's also heavy with songs he wrote. The title track, "Thank You", is a salute to all the branches of the military. Ray made a music video of the song and it's one of the songs that gets a standing ovation at his concerts. Ray wrote the song with a writer named Larry McCoy. Ray's picture appears on the inside fold out cover in a still shot taken from the "Thank You" music video. The image of the American Eagle is a perfect cover photo to describe this kind of CD. In a departure we hear several songs that feature opening narration from Ray...setting the stage for the plot of the songs. "Come on Home to Baseball" is a nostalgic song, written by Ray, encapsulating a baseball game into a slice of everyday life. One of the more deep songs from Ray Stevens in quite awhile comes in track three, "Blue Angel". It's almost entirely a spoken dialogue recording interspersed with singing dealing with a man's final days with his wife.

"Pledging My Love" is one of the few mid-tempo recordings on the CD. It had been an R&B hit several decades earlier and Ray's version is outstanding. The performance features the bagpipes on prominent display...something you don't expect to hear...but it adds to the song. "It Won't Be Easy", written by Don Silvers, is a love ballad that deals with a man's anguish and sorrow in the aftermath of a relationship breaking up. When I heard the song for the first time I instantly thought of Ray's 1981 album and how much this song sounded as if it would've fit right in with the songs on that particular release.

In "Let's Roll", Ray crafts a patriotic ode of military solidarity and anti-terrorism inspired by the phrase from Todd Beamer during the flight in Pennsylvania on 9/11. Ray references many catch-phrases and battle cries made famous throughout U.S. and World History while the phrase "Let's Roll" is heard in the background. Updating a couple of gems from the past Ray offers "Be Your Own Best Friend", originally recorded in 1978. The original recording was a Top-40 Country hit for Ray as well as the title of one of his albums that year. Then there is "Love Will Beat Your Brains Out", originally recorded in 1983, which tells the story of frustration and emotional turmoil that faces practically everyone whose single or just starting out a relationship only for it to all come crashing down.

One of the other mid-tempo songs, "When I Get Over You", uses irony in it's quest to inform a woman that she'll always be on the man's mind forever. Ray co-wrote the song with a writer named Doug Gilmore. The thing I find interesting about this pairing is Gilmore's name appears as a songwriter on an early '80s Ray Stevens album. There's a possibility that this song was written by Ray and Doug at that particular time but it wasn't until the making of this 2004 CD that Ray recorded it.

The 10th song, "Stand Up!", is an inspiring power ballad written by Ray and Buddy Kalb. In songs like this there are several ways to interpret the lyrics. I've always taken the song to be a criticism of those who choose to ignore the realities of what it takes to keep a nation free and question what they consider worth standing up and fighting for. It's a powerful song to be sure.

Ray went into what he called semi-retirement and he reduced his touring. He continued performing at select venues every so often but the self-imposed, semi-retirement kept him out of the mainstream public eye for a number of years. He continued recording, though, and studio album 34 arrived in 2007, a salute to a certain city in the southern portion of the United States...details in the next Golden LP Series installment!

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