June 27, 2016

Ray Stevens Gospel Favorites: CD Review...

Back in 2014 Ray Stevens released a 12 song gospel CD titled Gospel Collection, Volume One. He mentioned in numerous interviews during the publicity campaign that he recorded probably 40 songs altogether but wasn't certain which ones would ultimately make it onto the next CD. There are 12 songs on this gospel CD, just as there had been on the 2014 release, but a couple of the songs on here originated on a couple of previously released projects. More about that later. Given that this is being promoted as the follow-up to the 2014 release it may be very easy for some to dismiss it as something inferior since none of these recordings appeared in the first volume of songs but yet that kind of rationale and thinking is highly irrational. This 2016 CD consists of the same impeccable musical arrangements, uplifting vocalizations, soaring and dramatic emotional renderings, and a blend of traditional and contemporary gospel flavors. On the traditional side there's the sing-a-long "On the Jericho Road" which is part of a medley containing "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho". Each song is upbeat and carries a sing-a-long feel but the vocal delivery and music arrangement is dramatically different...creating 2 different moods all in the same performance.

The CD opens up with a medley. Song one is a slight reworking of a song he wrote and recorded in 1978 called "Hiding Place". It's alternate title for this CD is "Everybody Needs a Hiding Place". It morphs into "I've Found a Hiding Place" (from the pen of Albert Brumley). Most of the recordings on the CD are at least 3 and a half minutes or nearly 3 minutes...a couple of them are pushing 4 minutes and the medley recordings are even longer. This causes the recordings that clock in at 2 and a half minutes to feel as if they breeze by too fast.

One of those recordings, "Rusty Old Halo", is a song about a greedy man and the singer imagines that the man will be greeted at Heaven's gate and given a rusty old halo and second hand wings full of patches for being less than generous.

Earlier I mentioned that some recordings on this CD had previously been released. One of those is Track 11, "Dropkick Me Jesus". Ray had actually recorded the song for his 2012 project, The Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music. It's considered by some to be a religious novelty song and so he included it among the other comical/novelty songs he recorded for that multi-CD project. Track 10, "When The Saints Go Marching In", containing that glorious Dixieland arrangement and soaring vocal is from Ray's salute to the music and culture of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana in general. The recording originally appeared on Ray's 2007 CD titled New Orleans Moon.

Interestingly the title track of this 2016 CD, "Just a Closer Walk with Thee", appeared in abbreviated medley form on that New Orleans Moon CD but the version on this 2016 CD is a re-recorded, full performance of the song. In the realm of re-recordings there's "A Mama and a Papa". This song might only be familiar to hardcore fans of Ray Stevens (myself included in that category). It originally appeared on his first gospel album back in 1972, titled Turn Your Radio On, and it became a Top-5 hit on the Easy-Listening chart (commonly referred to as Adult-Contemporary today). Ray's updated recording keeps the original arrangement/melody intact...the only differences being his vocal and the contemporary instrumentation.

The album's closer is "Just a Touch of Jesus"...from the pens of Don Cusic and Ray's longtime collaborator, Buddy Kalb. I love the song and it's arrangement...it makes me think of those classic Elvis and the Jordanaires gospel recordings.

Does Buddy Kalb contribute anything else on the CD? This is something the devotees of Ray Stevens may be asking themselves. The answer is of course! A song that I hope becomes promoted as a single is from the pen of Buddy. It's called "Somethin's Comin" but it's also delivered within the song as 'Somebody's Coming'. It has one of those ear grabbing arrangements and of course it's peppered with some catchy lyrics...one of which is "some use his name as an expletive" or "some think it's the Chinese with a big financial bomb". It ends rather abruptly for a sing-a-long. Once you hear it you'll know what I'm referring to...but it still should be a song he should perform at his concerts.

The other song from the pen of Buddy Kalb is "Do You Hear Somebody Knocking?". This is a song about allowing Jesus into your lives and become born-again. "Once and For All", from the pen of Jerry Michael, is a song about the Crucifixion of Jesus. It's the one song on the entire CD that sort of breaks the southern gospel flavor of the project due to it being more of a conventional Hymn than a rousing, uplifting, foot stomping, hand clapping event...such as his cover of "This Ole House"...yes, the same song recorded by dozens of other artists over the decades but most popularly by Rosemary Clooney and the version by the song's writer, Stuart Hamblen.

All in all this is a fantastic gospel music CD and one that should become part of your collection. Ray Stevens fans, for sure, ought to purchase this but those that like to hear the kinds of gospel songs and arrangements associated with southern gospel music should also purchase this. It's great!! You can purchase the CD directly from Ray's on-line store by clicking HERE.

June 20, 2016

Ray Stevens Gospel Favorites...

Good afternoon Ray Stevens fans!! I'm sure you're aware of how busy Ray's been during the last couple of weeks...the second season of his television series getting underway, for example, and then the activity that took place during the CMA Music Fest. In addition to having a booth at the event Ray performed the National Anthem during the event's final night (June 12th). A video of his performance popped up on YouTube on June 12th. Ray recorded the National Anthem back in 2010 and it can be found on his We The People album. His performance and the song's arrangement heard at the CMA Music Fest is based on the 2010 recording.

A recap of Ray's CMA activities can be found in an article published by RFD-TV and can be accessed by clicking HERE. The page also features pictures of Ray at his booth signing autographs for fans. The CMA Music Fest, for those not familiar, used to be called Fan Fair. It's still called Fan Fair by a lot of people inside the music industry and by fans alike but it's officially billed as the CMA Music Fest.

This past Friday the latest CD from Ray Stevens became available entitled Just a Closer Walk with Thee/Gospel Favorites. It features the second half of the 24 gospel songs that Ray recorded during 2013 and 2014. The first half of the 24 songs appeared on 2014's Ray Stevens Gospel Collection, Volume One. I ordered my copy of the CD last Monday and it arrived in the mail today. I haven't had the chance to listen to it yet but I did glance over the credits and for those interested Ray's longtime friend/music and video collaborator/business associate Buddy Kalb authored several songs: "Something's Comin'", "Do You Hear Somebody Knockin'", and he co-wrote "Just a Touch of Jesus" with Don Cusic. As you search for the CD on-line be sure to look for that image. It's available at Amazon and on various on-line outlets that sell gospel recordings. It's available in both CD and Mp3 format. Much like his 2014 gospel CD this one isn't being sold at the official Ray Stevens music store yet. I suspect a lot of the reason Ray hasn't actually publicized this latest CD's existence is probably because the promotional campaign isn't officially underway yet. The CD having a release date on a Friday (back on June 17) is also a bit unconventional...but whatever...the CD is now available for purchase. The Mp3 can be found HERE for those that prefer to get their music loaded directly to their listening devices.