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Boo Ray

Sea of Lights – 2016 ( Self-released)

Reviewed by Fred Smith

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CDs by Boo Ray

Boo Ray knows how to lay down a country groove. It goes long and deep, filled with guitar licks, back beat and the detritus of long nights at honky tonks. Ray is a country-rock artist with a flair for clever lyrics and phrasings. "Sea Of Lights" displays this in abundance. The 10 tracks were cut in 2 days in a live to tape recording session, and the grit and immediacy of the recording environment is apparent.

Ray is a veteran of the Southern-rock roadhouse circuit, and his songs reflect that milieu. He writes what he knows, which just happens to be bars (" I Got The Jug," "Johnny's Tavern," One More Round"), long haul trucking ("Keep That Hammer Down"), drinking a few shots too many (see above) and chasing dreams ("Sea of Lights" and a remake of Hot Chocolate's "Emmaline").

Foremost, Ray is a songwriter. After time in the South, he moved to Los Angeles. He released a well-received album in 2013, "Six Weeks In a Motel," and has been part of the LA songwriting scene since then, alternating between there and Nashville. "Sea of Lights" echoes his roots, but also invokes the challenges of making this kind of music work in Southern California.

Ray's lyrics are straightforward, but clever. "Sea of Lights" states its initial case with "Redneck Rock and Roll," starting with a Doors-like tasty guitar lick, leveling into a scorching paean to outlaw country. Other songs strike similar notes, but are delivered with distinctive riffs and unexpected vocal and instrumental fills to set them apart from standard-issue outlaw country.

The centerpiece is the title cut. At another place and time (Detroit 1974) and in other hands (Bob Seger), this song would have been a staple on classic rock radio for the last 40 years. As it is, "Sea Of Lights" is something special, a neatly constructed song with aspirational, but realistic lyrics about the vicissitudes of the artist's life in Southern California. From the beginning mini Hammond B3 organ wash through the hard-driving chord-change break to the slide guitar fade out, the song captures the oft-told dreamscape of LA. Its refrain ("A sea of lights, a gentle breeze, take me to Los Angeles") has the simplicity of haiku and the punch of an MMA leg kick.

Most of the selections are strong. A couple are derivative, but well-presented. In particular, "A Melody, Some Guitars, and A Rhyme" seems less inspired by George Jones' "Bartenders Blues" and more an actual knock-off, with identical chord changes and a "honky tonk" reference in the penultimate line of the chorus. James Taylor, who wrote "Blues," might fairly claim a credit here.

Ray comes from the Elizabeth Cook (via Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt) school of country music: live it, sing it, and play it hard. "Sea Of Lights" is a fine record, and Boo Ray demands to be heard. His voice is clear and insistent. Accept the challenge.