Every so often - though not nearly often enough - Ray Benson likes to step out of his role as founder and lead singer of Asleep at the Wheel and show what he can he can do other than play Texas swing music better than anybody since Bob Wills. Like his previous solo album 2003's Grammy-nominated "Beyond Time," the music here is stylistically diverse, everything from jazz and folk to rock. Thematically, well, let's just say there aren't a lot of happy little ditties here. As Benson himself put it "It's a pretty dark album."
Of course, when a guy with Benson's voice and musical virtuosity wants to lead you down some dark pathways, it's smart to follow. In this case, the listener will be rewarded by musings on how fast love can die (In the Blink of an Eye) and pleas for cessation of pain (Give me Some Peace.) The protagonist of Killed by a .45 doesn't get out of the song alive, but at heart, it is really an old-fashioned play-on-words type of country song, even if nobody under the age of 40 will get the pun. And it's not all bleak, A Little Piece is a summing up of life's lessons learned, JJ Cale is a tribute to the composer of Call Me The Breeze and After Midnight that manages to sound like a JJ Cale song and Lovin' Man is a sweet romantic ballad that Don Williams would be proud to claim his own. And even when the lyrics are somber, they are counterbalanced by Benson's never-less-than-magnificent guitar picking, as on Heartache and Pain where the words are of despair, but the music soars.
The two covers here are dubious choices. Randy Newman's justly forgotten Marie a drunken wallow in self-forgiveness and cliché (the songwriter calls himself "weak and lazy" and proves it with lines like "You're a flower, you're a river, you're a rainbow") and the duet with Willie Nelson It Ain't You, which Waylon Jennings co-wrote, but had the wisdom to never release. (Is it still a cover if it was never recorded?).
Hopefully it won't be another 10 years before Benson releases another solo effort. And who knows, maybe he'll be in a happier place then.