Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Brian Ray ...

Years ago, many years ago, more years ago than seem possible, I graduated from high school.

That year, my friend Rob, who was a member of the faculty and who is retiring this year – the impossibility train just keeps chugging down the track – wrote in my yearbook, "Get obsessed and stay obsessed."

And so I did. And I have. About various things over the years, some more healthy than others, perhaps, but very much at the top of the list of good obsessions in my life?


I listen all day long. I buy more than I should, though less than I'd like. I figure I own about 1,000 albums at this point. I regret – hugely – not sticking with music lessons as a kid. (Damn my mother for being right when she told me I could quit but that I'd regret it. Why do parents have to be so smart?)

Some music barely registers with me. Some music greatly grates on me. But some music, sometimes but rarely, connects with me intellectually and grabs hold of me viscerally, and refuses to let go.

Ladies and gentlemen, for those who have not already had the pleasure, allow me to introduce you to Brian Ray.

I "met" Brian on Twitter on Friday night. Another tweeter whom I follow had retweeted one of Brian's tweets, and I was charmed enough to click over to Brian's page and follow him.

Moments later, I received a message from Brian, thanking me.

"But wait a minute," I was thinking, "a person can't send a direct message unless ..." [insert e-mail "DING!" here] "... that person is following me."

And there, in my inbox, was the alert from Twitter that Brian was now following me, too.

So I replied to him. And he replied to my reply. And we proceeded to while away part of our Friday nights, 140 characters at a time.

Between tweets, I started poking around his web site, reading his bio (a story that starts out at "adorable" and ends up at "astonishing"), and listening to his debut album, Mondo Magento.

You can sample tracks and download a few, which is very kind of him, to share his tunes. ("Vinyl" quickly caught my ear and hasn't let go since. Consider yourself warned.)

When it came to buying his album, I was torn. I really love CDs. Hardcopy. The disc, the jewel case, the liner notes. The modern-day equivalent of the joy I used to feel when I'd save up enough allowance and head to Hegewisch Records to buy a the latest album I'd been coveting. (You may remember this post, "I Was A Pre-Teen Fanilow.")

But I'm also an impatient sort. Digital download and a high-speed Internet connection could be my undoing.

So should I buy the album (from Brian's site, of course) and wait for it to arrive? Or should I just buy the download?

I opted to go old-school and buy the album and wait, figuring the download of "Vinyl" would tide me over until the disc arrived.

But then! Behold! On the thank-you screen that popped up to confirm my transaction? Links to download the entire album and a bonus acoustic track! Of "Vinyl," no less!

Brian Ray had read my mind! And I got the best of both worlds, the instant gratification of the download and the promise of the hold-it-in-my-hands wonder of the actual CD.

So, I've been listening. Generally, I listen to an album once (or twice) through in its entirety, just to get a sense of the overall vibe. And then I start to listen more intently.

There so much homogeneity in music these days, so much same-y sameness, so much production that vocals seem to have become an afterthought. Does anyone really know what Britney Spears actually sounds like? Heidi Montag? Paris Hilton? Even Jennifer Lopez's latest, which I sought out because I wondered how she managed to write a song about shoes, sounds, like, well, what record executives must think everyone wants to hear.

Not me. And not you, too, I reckon.

What I love about Brian's music is that every track has its own identity. Some are playful, some are rockin', some will nearly break your heart. The lyric "If you're leaving me, won't you take me with you" on "If You're Leaving Me" knocks me out. Who hasn't felt that way?

And through 'em all, the vocals – the soul of any song – are front and center, mixed but not masked.

He surely stands on his own musical merits, but listening, I find myself thinking, "Oh, that reminds me of Jeffrey Gaines" or "That's kind of Sex Pistols." I hear all kinds of artists in his songs, not that he's copying any of them. They're just associations in my ears. There are moments of others, Cheap Trick to be sure, but it's all Brian Ray.

His latest single, "I Found You," launches when you visit his site. As I mentioned to him last night, this track is begging for a video. It's infectious fun, a good summertime, cruising-with-the-top-down track. I think I listened to it about 10 times in a row. And it's playing now, as I write.

He hasn't announced a street date for his next album, but "soon" will suffice. I eagerly await its release. And when it drops, I'm sure I'll write another post.

I'm no publicist, I told him, but I'm happy to evangelize.

I am an immediate and steadfast fan.

Perhaps you will be, too.

Oh, and when he's not recording, he tours with Sir Paul McCartney.

Yes, really.

You can see them, for the first time or again, playing Sir Paul's awesome cut "Sing The Changes" on the marquee of The Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just out of curiosity, what musical instrument did you study as a child?

I know what you mean about childhood music lessons. My mother (bless her) DID insist that my sister and I each learn to play an instrument. I studied French horn; my sister played flute. We're both glad we did. Not only did we learn about music, we learned discipline and the rewards of self-application.

9:57 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Mostly organ, with some tinkering around on the piano.

I have a keyboard. I can pick out simple melodies by ear. I still remember a few chords.

But I have a few piano pieces I'd love to learn. I've bought the sheet music. Maybe one of these days ...

10:04 AM  

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