"Chainsaw Manicure" (Neurosis Records; 2004)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

Rick Ray returns again with another solid disc of amazing music. Amazing for the incredible talent it takes to complete such an undertaking, amazing in the fact that the artist does a number of these each year, and amazing for the sheer breadth of genres covered here. 

I know it's hard to imagine, but try to picture the guitar talents of Frank Zappa, David Gilmour and Rick Derringer - with a little Billy Gibbons thrown in - combined to create a single entity. That'll give you a general idea of what Rick Ray is up to. Ray has the creative curiosity of Zappa, the progressive talents of Gilmour and the energy of Derringer and Gibbons. It's a pretty impressive package.

There's a little bit of every genre folded up and tucked inside "Chainsaw Manicure." Some of the tracks here edge toward Pink Floyd while otherwise bring to mind the stranger stuff of ZZ Top. There are little chunks of hard rock and heavy metal, passages of classic rock and the occasional classical guitar discipline and flamenco flair.  

Lest we overlook that "creative curiosity of Zappa," the songwriting here should be mentioned as well. Lyrically and vocally, Ray's work emulates the brilliant style of the one and only Zappa. Ray doesn't have the same confidence that Zappa never failed to display, but he makes the best of what God has given him, delivering his socially conscious lyrics with effective, if imperfect, clarity.

"Chainsaw Manicure" will appeal to those who have enjoyed any of Ray's previous works and also to those who like their rock with no boundaries and no cookie-cutter formulas. Ray continues to stretch his imagination and the imagination of his audience - and he continues to do it often and well. 

All instrumentation by Rick Ray except reeds which were played by Rick Schultz.

For more information visit http://www.rickray.net/.

"The Guitarsonist" (Neurosis Records; 2002)

Reviewed by Snidermann

Try as I might, I did not like every track on Rick Ray's "Guitarsonist." The music was strange, experimental and its hidden symbolism was frankly more than I could often fathom. Most of the time, while listening to this CD, I found myself saying "What the fuck is this?!"

The CD's production value is somewhat beneath what you would expect from a professionally released CD, however Ray's guitar interpretation comes close to perfection. Light jazz-type licks are abundant throughout with lots of places you think about using the old fast forward button - but don't! If you do you may miss some of Ray's undeniable guitar brilliance that is littered throughout this CD. 

With 16 songs on this CD, there is a shitload of music to be had. Ray's social commentary is a bit more than I can take and, again, jazz isn't my favorite type of fretwork, but I totally admire Rick Ray's talent, the total way he expresses himself through his music, and the guts it takes to play what you want to play and not what's Top of the Pops at the moment.

And, no matter what, Rick Ray does and can play amazing guitar. 

For more information visit http://www.rickray.net/.

"Existing Passages" (Neurosis Records; 2002)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

As I've noted in previous reviews of Rick Ray's work, Mr. Ray is one of the most prolific writers and recording artists of all time. Now, imagine being so prolific that you can fill up a CD with 75 minutes of outtakes and unfinished ideas from two years worth of recording sessions - and still put out a solid disc of material.

Nineteen tracks make up "Existing Passages" which is an apt title for a CD of outtakes and unfinished ideas. However, not all of them are full songs: at least two tracks, "Beginning To Scream" and "The Oblivious," are the beginnings of ideas that could someday become full-fledged songs in the near future, with added emphasis on the word 'near.' "The Oblivious," in particular, seems destined to be an instrumental that could be a unique piece of Rick Ray's musical legacy.

The highlights are a-plenty - here's a few to whet your appetite: "They Found A Fool" is a perfect blend of acoustic Pink Floyd-isms and Robin Trower. "Door To Nowhere" is a beautiful acoustic ballad. "Moldy Rope Non-Filter" made me realize that Rick Ray is just adept at 12-bar blues vamps as anything else he does (I wonder why I didn't notice that before and it's not like I didn't have my chances!). "Executer Computer" is a display of Rick Ray's fluidity and sustained melodies. "Change" contains the unmistakable weave of prog-rock and classic rock with a solid melody to boot. "Love Burns Hate," featuring a solid message, has the raw feel of a quickly recorded demo, but could potentially be a solid single once it is polished up.

Although Rick Ray's music may not appeal to the average Rough Edge reader, many of us metal heads are fans of music that appreciate talent, daring, courage, and vision. For those of you who fit that category, Rick Ray would be a solid addition to your music collection. As I've noted before, Rick Ray's solid musicianship and low-key tunes evoke the Beatles, Kansas, Eric Johnson, The Moody Blues, Supertramp, King Crimson, and Marillion. The material on "Existing Passages," as well as his other material, are the kinds of songs that you could play at work in a professional environment without disturbing those around you, yet still hear decent songs that avoid the sleep-inducing lull of Muzak.

"Existing Passages" is continuing proof of the musical vision that Rick Ray is committing to recorded music history.

Rick Ray performs all vocals, guitars, keyboards, percussion, bass, and RX8. Rick Schultz joins in on bass clarinet, clarinet, saxophone, and percussion.

For more information visit http://www.rickray.net/.

"Insanity Flies" (Neurosis Records; 2001)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

One of the toughest things to do in the reviewing profession is to review the work of an artist who is very prolific - and I mean very, very prolific. Rick Ray records material much like you or I would do errands around the house - it's necessary and seemingly effortless. Quite frankly I've lost count of how many CDs, as a solo artist or as a band member, that Rick Ray has been a part of - not that it matters.

I detect a greater Rush influence on "Insanity Flies" which I've noted before, particularly on the CD "Manipulated D.N.A." Many of the tracks on "Insanity Flies" have an interplay that echoes the instrumental balance that Rush so deftly executes - this is particularly true on the track "Killing Pawns."

The instrumentals are my favorites here; and it's a good thing there are more instrumentals on "Insanity Flies" than on the previous Rick Ray CDs I've reviewed. From the gutsy, technical flair of "Guitartichoke" to the beautiful ballad "Missing Silhouettes" to the hyper-kinetic "Power Gone Mad" it's the instrumentals that differentiate his material from other artists. Not that I think Rick Ray's vocals are bad, but his voice does seem to lack a certain oomph and energy.

At 59 minutes "Insanity Flies" is actually a brief recording document given his previous standards and it helps immensely to give "Insanity Flies" a more cohesive approach. I've also realized that Rick Ray is one of the artists that sounds better through speakers than headphones. That may be a meaningless comment for most of you, but it makes a world of difference for me.

"Insanity Flies" may the most satisfying of all the Rick Ray CDs that I've heard (so far, anyway, because I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot more from Mr. Ray).

Rick Ray performs all vocals, guitars, keyboards, percussion, bass, and RX8. Rick Schultz joins in on bass clarinet, clarinet, saxophone, and percussion.

For more information visit http://www.rickray.net/.

"Manipulated D.N.A." (Neurosis Records; 2000)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

Rick Ray's impressive run of material continues with "Manipulated D.N.A." as it seems Ray has a bottomless pit of musical ideas and aural creativity. "Manipulated D.N.A" is chock full of songs that seem to have their inspiration from other classic rock and established hard rock bands. Perhaps the title was intentional, or perhaps it wasn't. In any case, most of the tracks on "Manipulated D.N.A." echo other artists' sounds and styles - which isn't a bad thing.

"The Nothing Man" and "Requiem For Sanity" have "Moving Pictures"-era Rush keyboard tones that Geddy Lee would be proud of. "Selling Confusion" boasts an easy-going, bluesy sequence that recalls the sound of the Rolling Stones mixed with the gutsy sound of ZZ Top. The riffing on the title track is particularly impressive. "If The Truth Was Told" has a very David Gilmour-like vibe to it. "Flies On Simon" has some stellar guitar runs that are as quick and melodic as neo-classical guitarists like Malmsteen, Moore, and MacAlpine. "Orangutan Ballet" brings together the sound and style of The Edge with Joe Satriani. Other artists that have seeming influenced songs on "Manipulated D.N.A" are Steve Morse and Robin Trower.

The 10-minute jam of "Psychonaut" is an extended instrumental that explores the depth of a single melody to many not-so-obvious conclusions and is easily the CD's best track.

Over 74 minutes of music gives the listener a lot to chew on. In lesser hands the disc might seem homogenized and stale, but that's not the case with Rick Ray's prolific talents. The music never seems forced or sub-standard. Rick Ray's blend of virtuosity, style, melody, and grace (yes, grace) makes "Manipulated D.N.A." a solid recording.

Rick Ray performs all vocals, guitars, keyboards, percussion, bass, and RX8. Rick Schultz joins in on bass clarinet, clarinet, saxophone, and percussion.

For more information visit http://www.rickray.net/.

"Guitarsenal" (Neurosis Records; 2000)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

Rick Ray is a prolific songwriter with "Guitarsenal" being the 16th CD of recorded material in his career; "Guitarsenal" is Rick Ray's 13th CD as a solo artist. In the grand scheme of things, Rick Ray's brand of melodic rock is reminiscent of mellow King's X at times and radio-friendly Kansas at others.

There's a lot of music to digest on "Guitarsenal" with 16 songs clocking in at over 72 minutes. Rick Ray is definitely a guitar-player's player and a musician's musician. Rick Ray elicits a wide variety of sounds out of his guitar which is all the better to more appropriately dress the songs in the style that gives the tunes their genesis.

"The Atom Smasher" is a hard rock showcase and "Terry The Duplicate" isn't far behind in the up-tempo department. "Nine Again" has a low key Satriani ballad sensibility while "An Unexpected Moment" is a cool way to end the CD. Rick Ray's versatility on the guitar extends into decidedly non-metal areas too, as "If I Had The Time" delves into Beatles-esque sounds and "Holding Onto Hope" brings a CSN&Y vibe to his acoustic guitar picking. More acoustic fretboard gymnastics can be heard on "Mellow-D" while the Eric Johnson-influenced "Floating" melds a cornucopia of styles into a seamless whole.

"Guitarsenal" is fairly evenly split between instrumentals and songs with vocals. Personally I favor the instrumentals over the songs with vocals (no shock there Rough Edge readers, eh?). 

All in all, "Guitarsenal" should be in anyone's collection who favors melodic rock with a flair for songwriting and variety and a bit of virtuosity to boot.

Rick Ray in his version of a one-man musical army handles vocals, guitars, keyboards, percussion, bass, and RX8. Rick Schultz joins in on bass clarinet and clarinet.

For more information visit http://www.rickray.net/.

Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.

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