Rick Ray - Various
Some people abide to the saying that ANY publicity is GOOD publicity. Ohio based musician Rick
Ray seems to be one of those people. After I had written two rather negative reviews on his
albums Atomic Soldiers and The Key To The Bottomless Pit, you'd have reckoned
this guy would be pretty pissed off. Not Rick. Not only did I recieve his entire back catalogue
and his newest releases over the last few months, but he also mailed me a collection of artwork
under his pseudonym 'The Masked Cartoonist'. This included a personal message in which Rick
thanked me for taking the time to review his CDs and expressed the hope I'd grow to like his
music over time.
So not a very vengeful person, this Rick Ray. To be honest, he seems a pretty nice guy. Until
recentely there wasn't a lot I knew about this musician. Fortunately his CD Looking Into The
Past includes some information about which bands Rick has played in and who his bandmates
were. From 1973 to 1985 Ray played in Neurotic. He then founded The Rick Ray Band
which lasted until 1989. Present day collaborator Rick Schultz was part of both these bands.
His last band was Riot Act, from 1990 until 1996, when he seems to have quit not only
playing in a band, but also performing live. The release of Riot Act's Live At Suma, a
1995 recording, on Rick's private label, Neurotic Records, led to a reunion with bandmates Jack
Ambrose and John Cek, resulting in this year's second Riot Act release, Maniacal Disatrophe
Tour. Presently Ray seems to focus on the release of his solo material.
Having recieved the entire Rick Ray catalogue, the question was how to deal with these cds for
DPRP's review section. Reviewing each CD seperately seems too bothersome, since the praise and
criticism concerning each album would be fairly identical, as will become clear below. A
special was also out of the question, because we reserve specials for important new releases,
round table reviews, or back catalogues with considerable interest to our readers, while none
of Rick's CDs would earn a very high rating.
In conclave with the review editor, here's what's come out of the pipeline. I'll first review
the quality of Ray's body of solo work, so far released on the Neurosis Records label. Some
points made in the earlier reviews may be reiterated, but this will strenghten my argument that
Ray's work doesn't show much innovation with each new release. After this general appraisal,
the nine CDs under review will be (very) briefly described (in alphabetical order), with the
accent on their various highlights.
Rick Ray plays guitar, bass, percussion, keyboards, guitar synths and RX8 and provides his
vocals. He's produced, recorded and mixed all CDs. Most of the songs are by his hand, but
there are some collaborations. The only other musician to appear in the newest material is
Rick Schultz on clarinet.
Rick was partly right; I have grown more appreciative of his music since writing my last
review. Some points of criticism stand, while others have come to the fore with my increased
knowledge of Rick's repertoire. Most importantly: too much of Rick's music sounds alike. Each
new album has a collection of songs that could just as easily have appeared on its
predecessors. Therefore composition must be labelled unimaginative. This is not meant to say
that Rick doesn't come up with some original material once in a while, but these songs are
almost lost in an endless stream of identical tracks.
The most important part of Rick's music that has grown on me is his typical style of playing
the guitar. In my review of Atomic Soldiers I still referred to his solos as being
"often simply awful." Fact is that most instrumental tracks seem to serve the sole
purpose of showing off Rick's talent on electric guitar with drawn out solos, while the rest
of the instruments (also by Ray) provide nothing more than wallpaper. This excludes Rick
Schultz on clarinet, who makes for a very dominant presence on quite a few tracks. Often
Schultz' involvement comes off as if it was added as a second thought; more than once the
clarinet stands apart from the rest of the music. Worse still, it often distracts from the
overall themes and melodies with its frenzied instrumental onrush. Schultz has his more subtle
moments and some songs derive their strenght from his participation, but mostly I find myself
wishing he'd been left out alltoghether or at least mixed in less obtrusively.
Rick's vocals aren't the best around, but can't be said to diminish the basic quality of the
songs. However, the vocal patterns are identical in most songs which grows annoying soon
enough. Even when a guest vocalist makes an appearance, as on Clone Man, this pattern is
upheld. The scarce songs that break free from this vocal melody make a welcome relieve.
On to the individual albums.
Abnormal Road (16 tracks/69.49) More than half the tracks on this album are
instrumental. No Air To Breathe takes a sample from Pink Floyd's Money as its
basis. Some tracks feature weird seventies space sounds, like Sea Of Tranquility and
Rick's rewritten version of the Rick Ray Band track There's A Riot Outside.
Balance of Power (15 tracks/59.12) Again more than half the tracks on this album are
instrumental. Dance Of The Sinners works from the basis of the Peter Gunn Theme.
Rick puts in a ballad with Back In Time and plays the blues in Blues Of Ignorance.
Both pretty good.
Cast Into Our Dimension (16/72.27) Some awful performances by Rick Schultz. Freedom
No Longer centers on a speech predicting a future Big Brother state in the U.S. Rick's
favourite character, Old Man Satan, returns in the atomic nightmare of the title track.
Clone Man (14 tracks/69.09) Only three instrumentals. There are guest vocal appearances
by Riot Act's Jack Ambrose and John Cek. Neither is an exceptionally gifted singer, but the
substitution of vocals makes a nice change. Another plus are two featured ballads: Sands Of
Time and Tell Me Where. These come off very well. Satan is back in Front Seat In
Hell. Divided We Fall is a bleak song about the destruction of the United States.
(Detecting a pattern in the lyrics yet?)
The Great Antagonist (13 tracks/70.37) Fairly good album. No Schultz! There is the
familiar use of speeches in the title track, which deals with the devil and Adolf Hitler.
A Different Time uses radio edits about Mark Chapman's cold blooded murder of John
Living In An Insane World (14 tracks/69.43) Some very good tracks, both instrumentals
and vocals. Excellent guitar play on Poured Into The Mold and Guitarmy Ants.
Looking Into The Past (13 tracks/66.32) An intresting album, which features songs from
Rick's bands Neurotic, The Rick Ray Band and Riot Act. This album opens with an expertely
performed 8 minutes version of Copland's Fanfare For The Common Man which rivals the
Emerson, Lake & Palmer version. Unfortunately the sound quality is downright awful,
which shouldn't come as surprise when you know it was recorded in Rick's basement in Ohio. The
Neurotic track Where The Wild Things Are suffers from equal sound problems. Follow
The Blind Man seems another variation of Michael Jacksons Billy Jean, like Put
Your Ears On on Atomic Soldiers.
Neurotic Tendencies (13 tracks/70.56) Good guitar play on Nothing Is, Nothing Was
and Contortion Drive. Forgotten Dreams is a love song, unexpected from Ray.
Unfortunately, this cd has more Schultz than I can handle.
You People (12 tracks/60.06) Good guitars solos at the end of the title track. Some very
good songs, notably The Nasties Are Coming and The Big Bad Wolves, while The
Garden has to be rated one of the best instrumental tracks by Ray...if Schultz hadn't
appeared to mess it up! The last track Bizarre Sprangled Banner is Rick's indeed bizarre
version of Star Sprangled Banner.
Four of these albums include one or more fairly ridiculous 'secret' bonus tracks which include
a speech about the dangers of psychedelic drugs, reversed or sped up voices. The only really
interesting of these bonus tracks are included on Looking Into The Past, namely a radio
edit on Neurotic and a tape of the audience calling out for more Neurotic at a concert. Hey,
I didn't say they we're that worthwhile...just interesting!
All the artwork is from Ray's own hand, off course under his alter ego The Masked Cartoonist.
Some of it is quite good, especially the covers of Cast Into Our Dimension and Clone
Man. Rick's published collection of artwork Picturesque Views From The Mind Of Rick Ray
aka (The Masked Cartoonist) holds more gems, ranging from splendid portraits to drawings
of some bizarre personages. This last category shows likeness to the work by Dutch artist
The best of the albums are The Great Antagonist and Living In An Insane World.
The first not only stands out for its absence of Rick Schultz on clarinet, but also provides
a good perspective on Ray's repertoire in a mix of instrumental and vocal tracks, as does the
second album. An 'honourable' mention should go to Clone Man with the guest vocals of
Ambrose and Cek, making a nice change from Rick's all too familiar and not all that strong
vocals. In addition it's shows a side we rarely see from Mr. Ray in the form of two ballads.
Looking Into The Past could also have been among the best picks, but it's sometimes
dreadful sound quality prohibits this. Disregarding this, it gives an interesting insight
into the earlier days of Rick's musical career, even though the material doesn't stand that
much apart from his later solo compositions. This leads me to believe he was the driving
force behind all the groups he's been involved in, in the writing proces anyway.
I still have my doubts as to whether this music will have much appeal to the readers of this
website. It's not all that progressive, though it proves hard to label it at all. On the other
hand, I have grown to like it (somewhat), and if you enjoy seventies rock like Harvest used to
release, then maybe so will you.
The mentioned four albums get a higher rating than the rest of the currently reviewed CDs.
The lower rating for these other CDs is in part a reflection of the fact that Rick Ray
dissappoints with the release of material that's just too similar on each album. It might have
been better if the best songs had been gathered onto two or three cds, instead of this constant
stream of repetitious material. In closing, I should note that in retrospect I would have given
the earlier reviewed The Key To The Bottoless Pit a higher rating with my grown
appreciation of Rick Ray's music.
All Rick Ray and Riot Act cds can be ordered through the mail at $7.00 each by contacting
Neurosis Records, 2557 Madison Ave., Painesville, OH 44077, U.S.A.
In the next DPRP review update both of Neurosis Records' releases from Rick's (former) band
Riot Act will be reviewed.
The Great Antagonist and Living In An Insane World: 6 out of 10.
Clone Man and Looking Into The Past: 5 out of 10.
All Others: 4 out of 10.