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Multiple Reviews Follow . . .

Rick Ray: The Guitarsonist
2002, Neurosis Records
CyberHome: http://www.RickRay.com http://Communities.msn.com/GuitaristRickRay

On his 2002 release, The Guitarsonist, Rick Ray continues in his established tradition of guitar-intensive concept rock. Once again Ray seeds his crafty arrangements with speedy fretboard traversals that enunciate his signature sound. The tracks on the The Guitarsonist are a combination of instrumental guitar expositions and concept vocal mosaics. But even on the vocal tracks, the subdued vocals tend to be subordinate to the dominant guitar work that is intertwined throughout the album. Ray's lead guitar includes many aggressive, speedy runs that are voiced in clear and wah-wah type tones that convey the precision in his playing. The sound is mainly centered around conventional instrumental rock tonality, though Ray imparts some interesting fusionish twists that incorporate unusual harmonization.

Guitar, Bass, Vocals, Keyboards, Percussion Rick Ray
Clarinets Rick Schultz
1) The Guitarsonist
2) Psycho Sam
3) Kill Max Kill
4) Dance Floor King
5) Mr. Cooper
6) Caution Flammable
7) Domestic Terrorism
8) Dance of the Particles
9) The Weasle's Bite
10) We All Fall Down
11) Of Your Own Design
12) Guitaren't You Surprised
13) The Battlefield
14) The Climb from Sheol
15) Out in the Street
16) I'm Sorry

~ Christopher Ruel ~ www.ChrisRuel.com ~ Chris@ChrisRuel.com ~ Chris Ruel's Monthly Spotlight

The Rick Ray Band: Into the Hands of Sinners
2003, Neurosis Records
CyberHome: http://www.RickRay.com http://Communities.msn.com/GuitaristRickRay

Rick Ray makes a departure from his previous format with the addition of new band members on Into the Hands of Sinners, his 2003 release. The infusion of new talent into the lineup has resulted in a stronger focus on songwriting and a fuller sound. Also, notably, the addition of new singers to the lineup has bolstered the vocal tracks in a manner that contributes significantly to the overall effect. The Rick Ray Band returns to the roots of concept rock with a sound that incorporates influences from many of the founders of instrumental rock, such as Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles, among others. The combination of these classic influences on the song structuring and Ray's signature speed-laden guitar style has resulted in a format with improved coherence from some of Ray's previous efforts that primarily emphasized Ray's guitar work. The songs have achieved a musicality that is appealing and should be accessible to a wide rock audience with preferences for guitar-intensive and concept styles.

The new direction that Rick Ray has taken with his recently expanded band is a change for the better. Into the Hands of Sinners is Ray's strongest effort to date that I have heard. The infusion of new perspectives into the Rick Ray concept has strengthened the overall musical vision that is projected. The new context that Ray's guitar work is placed has put it into a new frame that sheds new light on it. Ray has really hit his stride on this album both with his aggressive, racy lead work and his composition of the intrepid, stalwart arrangements. Progressive rock inclined listeners may want to take a listen to the reborn sound of Rick Ray with his new accompaniment on this album. Ray has set out to set the record straight with the nay-sayers this time around!

Guitar, Vocals, Keyboards Rick Ray
Reeds Rick Schultz
Bass, Vocals Gary Wood
Vocals Phil Noch
Drums, Vocals John Cek
1) Breakout
2) Feel Like I'm Gone
3) You're Not Alone
4) From One Side to the Other
5) Loriann
6) Only Human
7) The Clock is Ticking
8) Into the Hands of Sinners
9) Invisible Man
10) Supreme Court Jester
11) The Road to Freedom
12) Lunatic Love

~ Christopher Ruel ~ www.ChrisRuel.com ~ Chris@ChrisRuel.com ~ Chris Ruel's Monthly Spotlight

Rick Ray: Mind Control Inc
2000, Neurosis Records
CyberHome: http://www.RickRay.com

Rick Ray comes straight from dimentia to a music store near you with his latest effort, Mind Control Inc. Ray's themes center around (lunatic) fringe topics and are edging towards paranoid, delusional insanity. (And, I say this in the most complimentary way, because this appears to be what Ray is striving for...) The album is presented in a rock format with progressive and sometimes very speedy fretwork. Some of the guitar-intensive sections demonstrate some noteworthy chops that are executed with good polish, though the album might benefit from the dispensing of the vocals and rock format in favor of more guitar-intensive instrumental work. It seems that Rick Ray stretches himself like a bridge between a conventional rock format with vocals and the guitar-intensive instrumentalism that is his true forte.

The instrumental tracks, such as "Psychoward Room #9", "Mood Swings And Luney Things", and "Hypnotic Neurotic", constitute the strength of the album. Ray has a good sense for melody, balance, and integrating advanced guitar work into coherent composition. The compositions are in themselves enjoyable due to careful arrangement and attention to balance of dynamics, and accessibility of themes. The guitar work, comprised of much speedy and advanced technique, is well-polished and executed with precision. The musical style that Ray has created is inventive, unique, and has a distinctive sound. This style may take a little adjustment to get acclimated and does not encompass every modern technique, such as you might get with the extreme world class players like Shawn Lane, but there is enough solid axe-manship there to warrant guitar techies' attention and Rick Ray is definitely a national caliber player. That being said, I thought the originality and style demonstrated in the composition was the real identifying element and highlight on the CD, superceding any technique or mechanics that techies might analyze. And, though I didn't care much for the vocals, Ray presents some interesting angles in the ideas that he presents.

In summary, Rick Ray demonstrates a distinctive, unique, and unusual style on Mind Control Inc. This style may appear to some and not others. It took me some period of time to acclimate and adjust to put it into a frame I could measure it by. The guitar work is noteworthy for its breadth, speed, and near-flawless execution. The album is mostly a one man effort by Rick Ray. Overall, it is an impressive effort when you consider all the elements, such as composition, advanced guitar work, melodic invention, and production, that Rick Ray had to bring together to produce this album.

Guitar, Bass, Vocals, Keyboards, Percussion Rick Ray
Clarinet Rick Schultz
1) Psychoward Room #9
2) Robot Assassins
3) Little Zombies
4) Mood Swings And Luney Things
5) Hypnotic Neurotic
6) Mind Control Incorporated
7) Napoleon Brainapart
8) This Is The Peace
9) Attack Of The Mindless
10) Prescription For Ignorance
11) Looking All The Time
12) The Delusion
13) The Stranger

~ Christopher Ruel ~ www.ChrisRuel.com ~ Chris@ChrisRuel.com ~ Chris Ruel's Monthly Spotlight

Rick Ray: Guitarsenal (CD, 72:27)
Neurosis Records
20301 Ball Ave.
Euclid, OH 44123
CYBERHOME: http://communities.msn.com/GuitaristRickRay

Rick Ray has got to be one of the most prolific guitarists on the music
scene today.  There is seemingly a never-ending stream of new studio
releases from the axe man, and he shows no sign of slowing down anytime
soon.  Unfortunately, despite Ray's excellent guitar playing abilities -
most of his releases have suffered from the exact same problems: poor
vocals, poor production, poorly programmed drums. So the question is this -
were any of these issues addressed on Ray's latest outing,
Guitarsenal?  Well. no, not really.  However, Ray's guitar playing is
fresher and more impressive here than on any of his other releases, and his
inclusion of some tasteful keyboard work is a welcome addition to his
overall sound.

Ray really shines on instrumental cuts such as "Same Here" and "The
Rendezvous".  On these tracks, Ray makes great use of multi-tracking
different guitar textures in order to achieve a rich and full sound.
Guitarsenal has a number of well-done instrumental tracks, which is a
good thing because songs that feature Ray's vocals such as "Looking Into
Your Eyes" and "Terry the Duplicate" are severely hampered by his
under-produced and subpar singing.  The tracks with vocals also seem to trap
Ray into a verse/chorus/verse/solo/chorus type structure that he's unwilling
to get out of.  These leads to some very "standard issue" rock and roll
songs that don't really stretch one's ears or imagination.  Perhaps Ray
should consider releasing an instrumental album in the future, as it is in
those tracks that his guitar-playing prowess really is allowed to flourish
without the binds of conventional song structures.

Where Guitarsenal runs into more serious trouble is the same place
that all of Ray's previous CD's have run into trouble - subpar production
muddles the sound to the point where the hiss in your speakers is about as
prevalent as the guitar and bass.  I certainly understand that Ray is
probably on a tight budget, but I have heard other offerings from minimally
financed bands that come across as much more professional and clean sounding
then does Guitarsenal.  Also, the use of electronic percussion
severely derails any power that can be generated from the guitar-heavy
music, so live drums would be an extremely welcome investment for any future
releases.  I'd personally suggest trading in Rick Schultz's and his electric
clarinets in for a drummer, as the clarinets do nothing to add to the
quality of the songs on Guitarsenal. Despite all I've said, it's
still incredibly obvious to me that Rick Ray is a very talented guitarist,
but until he addresses some of these issues he will continue to churn out
serviceable - but flawed - releases instead of the high quality guitar work
that he is capable of.  I look forward to Ray's future releases with the
hopes of improvement.

More information on Rick Ray can be found at

- Michael Askounes (michael@gscyclone.com)

Rick Ray: Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals, Percussion, Bass, RX8
Rick Schultz: Bass Clarinet, Electric Clarinet

1. Looking into Your Eyes (4:32)
2. Same Here (4:04)
3. Taken Control (4:11)
4. The Rendezvous (4:33)
5. If I Had the Chance (4:50)
6. Mellow-D (3:19)
7. The Atom Smasher (6:45)
8. Bottom of the Heap (3:57)
9. People Turn (4:28)
10. Nine Again (4:37)
11. Holding on to Hope (4:57)
12. Floating (3:56)
13. Terry the Duplicate (5:28)
14. It Was O.K. a Minute Ago (3:28)
15. Money From Nothing (5:01)
16. An Unexpected Moment (4:20)

Rick Ray Atomic Soldiers (1999), The Great Antagonist (1999), Cast into our Dimension (2000), Living in an Insane World (2000) (Neurosis Records)

Prolific Ohio guitarist Rick Ray plays guitar based hard rock, some vocal and some instrumental, and all centered around his fast, crisp lead guitar. Ray's label Neurosis Records boasts eleven self-recorded and produced CDs of his solo work, on CD-R with color inserts and original artwork. Ray plays guitar and guitar synth, sings, and programs all of the other instruments, except for guest vocals and electric clarinet from frequent collaborator Rick Schultz on "Atomic Soldiers," "Cast into our Dimension," and "Living in an Insane World."

Ray's music is largely blues based hard rock, guitar riffs moving in standard chord progressions, with occasional bursts of originality, like the dual clarinet and bass passages on "Put Your Ears On," the acoustic guitar chords and solo licks over background electric guitar in "Guitarm and Hammer," and the atonal descent of "Embracing Insanity." Ray's raspy vocal style sounds like a gravely cross between the Beatles and Pink Floyd, and his low vocal range fits his metallic grinding guitar well. The lead guitar dominates all the music, ripping through lightning fills in the vocal songs, building through long, indulgent guitar solos in the instrumentals. Ray's impressive technique displays a lot of flash as he tears through scalar patterns, but rarely offers much originality or emotion.

The major flaw in Ray's music is a consistent overestimation of the listener's attention span, in many aspects of his song writing. He excessively stretches solos, like the clarinet and guitar duel in "The Daulhowz Concerto" that lasts over 6 minutes, ambient and sample passages like the intro to "Fweep F'nork," and even verse and chorus sections in many of his songs, to lengths that approach farcical.

The guitar sounds are tiny and compressed, and Ray often uses a flange effect that gives his tone a brittle quality. The bass programming varies widely, as some songs contain mobile, supportive bass lines while others plod along in steady eighth notes, and the drum programming often uses dated sounds, like reverb drenched snare, in static loops that repeat for the entire song.

Rick Ray's music is a lot like a massive Stephen King novel like "The Stand" -- it's meandering and often extremely self-indulgent, but if you like guitar centered hard rock in that style, you may enjoy it. If you prefer your music more like King's short stories -- succinct, compact, and subtly effective -- then Rick Ray's music may not be for you.

Reviewed by Scott Andrews [sha3u@Virginia.edu]

Rick Ray: Neurotic Tendencies (CD, 70:47) Neurosis Records Neurosis Records 20301 Ball Ave. Euclid, OH 44123, USA Ph: 1(216) 486-1574 E-mail: hobbelshnimp@hotmail.com Cyberhome: http://communities.msn.com/GuitaristRickRay Look up "prolific" in the rock and roll dictionary (go on, look it up!), and you will find next to the definition a picture of axe-man Rick Ray. This guy churns out more CDs than Columbia House! Today, we'll be dealing with one of his 1999 releases, Neurotic Tendencies, which in short is an album filled to the brim with killer guitar licks that unfortunately are undermined by poor mixing and the use of drum machine rather than live drums. Neurotic Tendencies also marks the first time I've EVER heard a heavy metal guitar/clarinet duel - and guess what, it was actually sort of cool! On thing that Rick Ray must be admired for is his versatility: he plays all the instruments on the album (save clarinet), sings, has a hand in every song's composition, mixes and produces the CD, and I'm guessing probably even does the cover art (which is a very cool blend of Yellow Submarine-y illustrations and acid-inspired facial contortions). Ray obviously cares a great deal about his craft, and as far as guitar chops go you're not going to find many folks out there that can keep up with Ray's frantic riffing. This becomes immediately apparent in the very first track "Rodent Man," which features some downright mind boggling fretwork. Other standout guitar work is featured in "Guitarby's Sandwich," which is a standout track that features some almost poppy rhythm guitar work. On the 7-minute "Divine Wind," you'll find some very nice dual guitar soloing - but what really sets this song is the unprecedented (at least to my ears) guitar/clarinet dual that occurs approximately 2/3 of the way into the song. Now assuming for a moment that Schultz's clarinet is not synthesized, I must say that the brother blows a mean licorice stick! Schultz's woodwinds are also featured on a number of other tracks on the CD, but usually they sound a little out of place with Ray's straight up rock and roll. Ray and Schultz do get points for originality, though. Unfortunately for the most part, Ray's excellent guitar work cannot overcome some of the CD's other problems. First off, the decision to use a Yamaha RX8 drum machine as opposed to a live drummer may have been a decision made out of necessity (drummers don't grow on trees), but it was an ill-advised one nevertheless. Drum machines and metal-influenced music doesn't normally go well together, and that is definitely the case here. Other problems are in the vocal department - Ray's voice is just too rough for my tastes and I didn't find the lyrics very appealing either. It is due to this shortcoming that the instrumental tracks on Neurotic Tendencies work much better than those dominated by Ray's vocals. Finally, although an improvement over previous Ray works, (see Riot Act review), the production values really hurt the music - the quality of the sound is muddled and sloppy. Rick Ray is a musician that obviously is very passionate about his trade. His guitar playing is fantastic; there's no doubt about that, but he may be better served by getting outside help in the production and vocal areas. Also, other musicians to supplement Ray's axe skills would probably help as well - a guitarist of Ray's caliber shouldn't have a problem finding a talented band to back him. Rather than a one-man band, I feel Ray would be more successful as the centerpiece of a three or four-piece outfit comprised of solid musicians. A little more time and care spent on Ray's releases could pay of in spades; by concentrating more on quality as opposed to quantity, Rick Ray would most likely enjoy greater success at what he loves doing. - Michael Askounes (michael@gscyclone.com) CREDITS: Rick Ray: Guitars, Bass, Vocals, Percussion, rx8 Rick Schultz: Clarinet TRACKLIST: 1. Rodent Man (3:35) 2. Guitarby's Sandwich (3:19) 3. Temptation is Here (5:54) 4. Nothing Is, Nothing Was (4:22) 5. Contortion Drive (7:32) 6. Forgotten Dreams (5:13) 7. Divine Wind (7:08) 8. My Time is Coming Soon (5:00) 9. Neurology III (6:38) 10. I Can't Stand It (4:30) 11. With All Tomorrows (3:52) 12. Money Up Your Nose (6:58) 13. No One Knows Your Name (5:27) 14. SECRET HIDDEN TRACK (1:19)

AND NOW FIVE CD REVIEWS IN ONE!! Count 'em. Rick Ray's: (1)Balance of Power (2)Looking Into the Past (3)You People (4)The Key to the Bottomless Pit (5)Clone Man Neurosis Records 20301 Ball Ave. Euclid, OH 44123, USA Ph: 1(216) 486-1574 E-mail: hobbelshnimp@hotmail.com Cyberhome: http://communities.msn.com/GuitaristRickRay (AN OVERVIEW FIRST) It's hard to say anything about Rick Ray without mentioning his prolific recording career. Four of the 60-minute CDs of his which I'm reviewing here were recorded in a span of about 6 months total (the other one is a compilation). While that's certainly something to be respected, it's also a major detractor in his work in that his good work is often diluted by samey or even flat-out lame pieces - it's as if he has completely ignored the editing/sorting aspect of composition. All of the albums have an unsurprisingly similar sound. Rick plays mainly in an instrumentally-emphasized, hard rock vein of moderate complexity with plenty of time for Ray's virtuoso guitar solos. About half the songs per CD have vocals (also handled by Rick). The vocal songs have the most widely varying degrees of success - many are terrible and a few are quite good. Rick also plays bass, which is pretty unobtrusive throughout, and is credited with percussion. Unfortunately, all the percussion seems to be electronically generated, and the atrocious cymbal sounds and too-square (for this kind of music) rhythmic precision which are the drum machine's trademark make Rick's CDs considerably more annoying than they need to be. This is especially sad considering Ray is actually a better programmer of drum parts than many of his ilk. Lastly, reed man Rick Schultz appears quite often and livens things up by adding almost Dr. Nerve-like frenzied clarinet lines to the music. Sometimes its just too much and gets annoying, but sometime the textural contrast really works. (Now a CD-by-CD breakdown of the albums) The Key to the Bottomless Pit - This is the best of the bunch, which is odd considering the slight predominance of vocal songs. Almost every song is a winner (there's one fairly wretched piece and at least one mediocre one), but the 16-minute title track with it's wonderfully varied instrumental bridges is the clear highlight. The Key sounds a lot more unified than Ray's other CDs because of the underlying concept of war and the arms race which permeate all songs. Recommended. Balance of Power - Balance's songs also stay on the topic of war (with a few exceptions) but these seem to be either songs rejected for The Key to the Bottomless Pit or songs Ray is trying to write on the same subject, but with more contrived results. Either way, there's little on the album that wasn't done better on The Key ... Clone Man - Another highlight, this CD is oddly named, since it's the most varied of the bunch. A few killer instrumentals and a token ballad song (rare in his catalog) are only slightly offset by some filler. For some reason, the drums sound more palatable on this release than any other one. You People - Probably the most redundant CD of the bunch. Even the instrumentals, which are almost always moderately good, sound uninspired and almost identical. A few songs toward the beginning are outstanding, but there's so much filler after them that listening to the entire album is a chore. Looking Into the Past - Very different than his solo albums, this collects material Rick had performed and recorded with an incredibly lengthy list of supporting musicians, playing - YES! - real drums! On the flip side, Rick's compositions were more uniformly weak from this period, but the hard rock version of "Fanfare for the Common Man" is surprisingly cool and a few other tunes transcend mediocrity. I'll admit Rick's style of music is not exactly my cup of tea, at least not to the tune of 5 CDs, but he works undeniably hard and deserves some CD sales (his albums are darn cheap, too). If he would get out of the studio long enough to edit his compositions and find a live drummer, he could be an incredibly impressive artist. -Jon Dharma Murphree GO TO PREVIOUS PAGE



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