From Aural Innovations #17 (September 2001)
What follows is a listing of the Rick Ray and Riot Act CD's available from Neurosis Records and brief impressions of each that focus on highlight tracks. All are excellent and many don't radically differ in style. This means there's much repetition in my descriptions of each CD, but it will be clear what especially excited me and the best places to start should be evident. I hope this gives the reader some guidance. But if you feel overwhelmed by the number of choices... then just close your eyes and pick one. Trust me... you'll end up coming back for more anyway.
Rick Ray - "Abnormal Road" (Neurosis Records 1999)
"Your Short Life" is a highlight track that features heavy progressive rock with shades of the Dregs. It's got that jamming 70's feel that is a trademark of Rick's music, but the music shifts thematic gears a number of times, making for an 8-minute prog rockin' and rollin' ride with lots of killer guitar shredding. "American Streets" includes the guitar and clarinet dueling between the two Rick's that is such a highlight of Rick's music and gives it a recognizable sound. "A Fine Predicament", "Something A Little More Original", and "Bomb Day" all have that driving Dixie Dreg "Cruise Control" sound that we hear so much on Rick's CD's. But "Bomb Day" is a true monster in which Rick out-Dregs the Dregs. The fretboard melts and the big one drops at the end. A smoker!! And space rockers in particular should check out "There's A Riot Outside (Part 2)" and "Sea Of Tranquility". The former is a stomping space metallic rocker with chaotic rumbling and bleeping synths, a pounding rhythm section, and some of Rick's most intricate guitar work on any of the CD's in his catalog. And "Sea Of Tranquility" is a dark demonic Hawkwind-ish space metal tune which brings to mind an apocalyptic sci fi soundtrack.
Rick Ray - "Balance Of Power" (Neurosis Records 1999)
The pace doesn't let up for a moment as Rick kicks out 15 more power rockers. The CD starts strong with the monster guitar shredding "Endurance". "The Fly Aways", "Bloopy Stuff (Part 2)", and "Balance Of Power" all illustrate Rick's lyrical playing style, in which he solos, somtimes shredding furiously, but the guitar sings so beautifully it might as well be vocals. "Dance Of The Sinners" includes a rhythm section that pounds out a heavy marching "Peter Gunn" theme styled sound. "Fire It Up" and "Kevin's Dead" are rousing rockers with Rick Schultz's horn soloing as fast and furious as the guitar. I can't stress enough how great the guitar/horns combination of the two Ricks sounds and serves to give the music its identity. "Back In Time" sounds like an old John Lennon song. "Blues For Ignorance" and "A Burning Mountain" are my favorite tracks on the album. "Blues For Ignorance" features traditional blues but played in Rick's heavy style and with some of the most devasting solos on the album. And "A Burning Mountain" is a roller coaster ride rocker with deisel engine bass and drums that left me exhausted.
Rick Ray - "The Great Antagonist" (Neurosis Records 1999)
"Guitarsenic" and "Guitargonaut" are both total prog rock guitar shred-fest tracks. Mind-boggling fretwork in an instant becomes calmly melodic. Really nice tunes. "Anything At All" is similar but includes in-yer-face pounding tribal percussion. "Makes No Sense" stays the course with electric jams that make this another nice melodic prog rocker, but also includes more prominent acoustic guitar than usually heard in Rick's music. "Spinning Faster" and Fweep F'nork" are my favorites. Sit back and dig the wonderful sound of jamming 70's heavy psych-rock guitar on "Spinning Faster", which is followed by an all-too-brief Hendrix styled freakout. "Fweep F'nork" features more electronics than typically heard on Rick's songs. And dig the freaky backwards voices. And all this with Rick kicking out his trademark shreddy guitar soloing. Totally wild and strange. It's followed by two untitled tracks. One includes a lot of strange sounds with a sample of a warning report against LSD, and the other is a brief electronic wall of noise. Certainly different for Rick.
Rick Ray - "Atomic Soldiers" (Neurosis Records 1999)
Atomic Soldiers includes two lengthy heavy prog tracks I enjoyed. Rick pulls all his tricks out of his sleeve for the "The Daulhowz Concerto". This 11-minute epic explores hard rock, prog, space-noise, and heavy rock-jazz. And Rick Schultz's clarinet goes into freakout mode, sounding more like a synth than a wind instrument. The segments of the Concerto hysterically include "Dolly The Parton", "Salvadore The Dolly", "Dolly The Lama", "Dolly The Clone", and "Barbie The Dolly". "Dancing On The Killing Floor" is another 11-minute heavy prog rocker that evolves through multiple movements. At the core of the track is a song about the problem of the drugs that are so quickly prescribed to children. I don't buy into most of Rick's opinions about government conspiracies and the book of Revelations "predictions", but we do find common ground on the issue of Ridalin soaked schoolchildren. A killer track with fiery guitar bits and more incredible guitar/clarinet duels. "Bloppy Stuff (Part IV)" is a KILLER steamrolling rocker with the two Rick's yet again dueling madly between guitar and clarinet. You'll want to file assault charges after hearing this one. I really like the jazzy clarinet on "Put Your Ears On" which sound like a synth solo. And "Victims Of The Times" is a song which features slowly jamming Hendrix/Trower heavy-psych guitar. The licks are slow and simple, but the sound and effect is simply gorgeous, and demonstrates once again how Rick excels at slow emotional playing as well as lightning speed shred workouts.
Rick Ray - "Clone Man" (Neurosis Records 1999)
Clone Man includes some tracks that struck me a being like old-time Robin Trower rockers. "Are We Ready" is a good one. "Can't Escape" is another, but when Rick takes off his solos leave more skidmarks in the road than Trower ever did. And "Divided We Fall" is similar, but the acoustic guitar adds a mellower feel that cushions the listener while listening to the blistering guitar solos. "Scream" is an aptly titled tune that features plenty of shred from Rick. Lots of different guitar sounds, some quite literally screaming, and others that have a manic crunch that had me seriously head-bopping and air-guitaring. One of my favorites on the album. "The Exterminator" is a total shred-fest and Rick Schultz's clarinet sound on this tune gives a strangely avant-garde feel to what is otherwise a headbanger of a song. Very intersting and it added some welcome variety to the album. And "The Fire And The Flame" is another cool rocker with great soloing from the clarinet.
Rick Ray - "Neurotic Tendencies" (Neurosis Records 1999)
One of Rick's stronger CD's, it features a lot of that will appeal to prog rock fans as much as lovers of heavy jamming guitar rock. "Rodent Man" is a great example with beautiful fretwork and sounds that meld several influences but remain distinctly Rick's. "Temptation Is Here" includes some cool looped or backwards guitar bits that give a trippy Beatles-sounding quality to the music. "Nothing Is, Nothing Was" is unusally mellow for Rick, and is much like the occassional John Lennon styled songs that crop up from time to time on his CD's. This is followed by "Contortion Drive", which starts off equally mellow though it soons launches into a Rick Ray rocker that alternates between being blazing and melodic. This is one of my favorites on the CD and includes some of Rick's best and most varied playing. It also runs through enough shifts in pace and theme to leave a smile of satisfaction on the faces of the prog rock crowd. "Divine Wind" is another impressive, continually evolving, prog rocker that includes plenty of fiery guitar and clarinet, and has some of the most intricate musical structures on the CD. "Neurology III" is a surprisingly bouncy and upbeat guitar and clarinet tune. And like a lot of the tracks on this CD it includes a compositional complexity that moves through a number of moods and themes. And "No One Knows Your Name" is a nice jamming Hendrix/Trower rocker that's followed by an unititled but totally freaked out instrumental. Man, I would have loved to have heard this one continued for a while!
Rick Ray - "You People" (Neurosis Records 1999)
You People is one of Rick's best albums in terms of the great variety of guitar sounds. And, once again, there's lots of tracks that will appeal to both heavy jam rock fans and progheads alike. "The Night Crawls In" is a standard Rick rocker but both the guitar sound and Rick Schultz's clarinet adds a totally spaced sound to the proceedings. "The Dolphin Endorphin" is another driving rocker with more of the cosmic but still heavy rockin' guitar sound heard on "The Night Crawls In". Rick has a number of different layered guitars happening at once, though one was obviously poorly mixed too deep in the background. Still it's an excellent tune. "Mental Block" is similar, but with an endless series of transitions that keep the listener alert anticipating what's around the next bend. One of Rick's more impressive and complex compositions that features tight-as-a-knot musicianship from both him and Rick Schultz. In fact, parts of this 9-minute track comes across like a heavy rock blend of ELP and the Dixie Dregs, with a few spacey bits thrown in for good measure. A real highlight track among all Rick's releases. "The Garden" is a little different being a mellow melodic bouncy rocker. Almost a novelty tune relative to much of Rick's work, but it still rocks out and has the usual impressive guitar work. And "Bizarre Spangled Banner" is exactly what the name implies. It starts of with spaced out sounds and a hip-hoppy beat and then Rick's guitar kicks in and does the Hendrix thing. Mucho freaky!!
Rick Ray - "The Key To The Bottomless Pit" (Neurosis Records 1999)
With fewer tracks that really grabbed than most of Rick's other CD's, The Key To The Bottomless Pit nonetheless has its moments. Things move along slowly for a while. "The Einstein Blues" is a mellow, almost country styled bluesy instrumental. But the title track is, at 17 minutes, the longest track (and one of the most apocalyptic) on any of these CD's. Rick makes good use of the song's length to stretch out in every direction. Lots of inventive jams feature both guitar and synth-like clarinet. The two Ricks trade licks like dual lead guitars and the clarinet once again adds a trippy element to a heavy rock environment. Later in the set, "Violent Gentlemen" proves to be one of the more driving rockers that get the music back into the proper groove.
Rick Ray - "Cast Into Our Dimension" (Neurosis Records 2000)
Whatever excitement and variety might have been lacking in The Key To The Bottomless Pit is more than made up for on Cast Into Our Dimension. An ominous statement on the back of the CD indicates Rick is exploring all the themes that concern him: "After the war in heaven is finished the devil is cast down to earth. Woe to the inhabitants of planet earth". Regardless of your feelings on religious subjects, Cast Into Our Dimension overwhelmingly contains powerhouse rockers with some of Rick's best playing and arrangements. "Always In Your View" and "Bloppy Stuff (Part 5)" are both thudding rockers with the great trademark guitar and clarinet duel I've grown to enjoy so much. The former is particularly strong, with some of the sounds making it difficult to distinguish between the two instruments as both are probably using effects. "Embracing Insanity" is one of the best balls-to-the walls guitar tracks on the album, embellished by sporadic swirling synths. "Time Seems To Fly" is another one of the occasional songs that remind me of John Lennon's solo years, both the vocals, instruments, and beats, but are backed by Rick's unmistakable guitar and Rick Schultz's magic clarinet. And the song ends with one of the most completely freaky spaced out trip moments I've heard on any of Rick's songs. "In This Sphere" is yet another track that surprised me with more space freakiness. And "The Monolith" is a heavy one for the prog fans. Lots of intricate arrangements and rhythmic and instrumental gymnastics.
Rick Ray - "Living In An Insane World" (Neurosis Records 2000)
Another strong effort, Living In An Insane World opens with "Poured Into Their Mould", with its simple but telling lyrics... "I see your brain. Has turned to mush. It's like a toilet. That can't be flushed. Your mind is ruined. From the TV." Yeah, we've been poured in the TV mould. It's a great rockin' tune too with fiery passionate solos. "Black Top Hat" is a slower paced song with a nice keyboard backdrop. But it also shows that Rick can play guitar that finds that elusive line between steamroller rocking and melodically tugging at the heartstrings. "I Need You With Me", "Guitarmy Ants", and "Thoughts Of Your" are all mellow instrumentals, the later two featuring rare spotlights on the acoustic guitar. "Thoughts Of You" is a standout track with very nice dual acoustic guitars with a bit of Renaissance influence, and a little Flamenco. Maybe something you'd hear on Anthony Phillips' Private Parts & Pieces albums. The title track is a 70's styled heavy rocker with prog-like intricacies. "March Of The Locust" and "Burn Of The Century" are strong tracks with Rick Schultz doing the keyboard thing with his clarinet. And of course there's the almost obligatory John Lennon styled track, in this case "Time Moves On". The song jams on with guitar and either keyboards or efx'd clarinet providing a swirly cosmic edge. Yet the sweeping melody is still promenent and powerful. My favorite on the CD.
Rick Ray - "Mind Control Inc" (Neurosis Records 2000)
It's hard to single out any one CD in Rick's catalog for extra special guitar work, but Mind Control Inc has some exceptionally potent axe shredding. "Psychoward Room #9" and "Prescription For Ignorance" are heavy driving Dregs styled rockers with smoldering guitar, and the later includes some cool freaky space synths. "Robot Assassins" is a mellower track but one of my favorites on the CD. It never ceases to amaze me how Rick can play such mellow music, yet still be blazing away on his guitar and not have the varied tempos clash with one another. A steady rhythm section, slow droning clarinet notes, and rapid-fire guitar licks all coexist to make a coherent whole. And it wraps up with some great freaky loopy guitar bits. Mind Control Inc also includes numerous shred-guitar tracks, notably "Little Zombies", "Mood Swings And Luney Things", "Hypnotic Neurotic", "Napolion Brainapart", and "This Is The Place".
Rick Ray - "Guitarsenal" (Neurosis Records 2000)
CLICK HERE to read full review in Aural Innovations #15.
Rick Ray - "Manipulated D.N.A." (Neurosis Records 2000)
Manipulated D.N.A. is Rick's most recent release, and it also happens to be my favorite in his catalog so I'll get into more detail on this one. The CD has some of his strongest songs to date and even gets into more psychedelic territory than heard on previous releases, perhaps making this the best place to start for Aural Innovations readers.
"The Nothing Man" opens the set and is a solid rocking song embellished by falling waves of space synths. I like the way the guitars are mixed in the left and right channels to make for an excellent dual guitar experience. The title track is one of Rick's more psychedelic songs featuring his standard rocking guitar but it's heavily wah'd. Heavy rock, but with a strong trippy element when he's soloing. The trip continues on the 10-minute "Psychonaut", a prog-psych rock guitar journey. It has beautiful melodic solos with a touch of wah guitar and plenty of the crunchy rock we've come to expect from Rick. The music evolves smoothly and the solos really soar. If I could only play one song from Rick's entire catalog to turn on an uninitiated listener this would most definitely be the one.
"If The Truth Was Told" is a jamming bluesy prog-psych song. I love the melting guitar sound, each note bubbling and gurgling. Then Rick takes off on a slow trippy acid blues solo that's reminiscent of the best of 70's heavy rock. The gears shift continually and dramatically on "Flies On Simon", from easy-paced rock with Rick's trippy wah'd guitar soloing in the background, to bouncy psych-jazzy sections, to dual-assault rip snorting solos from both guitar and electric clarinet. Another excellent track! "Orangutan Ballet" is a very nice combination of melodic Trower-styled shred guitar and laid-back acoustic guitar.
"Requiem For Sanity" is very different, being the only purely electronic tune I've heard on all of Rick's CD's. A symphonic keyboard plays a dark melody accompanied by a mechanical pulsating synth pattern. I like the contrast between the two. "Could This Be" is a killer rocker that showcases both musicians' instrumental proficiency. Years of collaboration have resulted in the two Ricks guitar and clarinet being natural partners for take-no-prisoners rock 'n roll assaults. If you're reading about this clarinet and shaking your head in bewilderment, then believe me... you've got to hear it to believe it. "They'll Never Learn" is a mellow orchestral song with a rare piano appearance and beautiful clarinet soloing from Schultz. And the set closes with an untitled intricate prog-jazz instrumental. The clarinet takes the lead, weaving a winding but determined path. But there's also piano, acoustic guitar, and the most noticable bass jamming I've heard on any of Rick's CD's. An overall excellent album.
Rick Ray - "Looking Into The Past" (Neurosis Records 1999)
Rick has released a large body of work in just a few short years. But he's been playing a long time and fans who have tuned into his work will want to check out this retrospective collection for a glimpse into the past. The earliest tracks, some dating back to 1979, are from his band Neurotic, which features grinding metallic rock with a bit of thrash. There's also some Rick Ray Band tunes from the late 80's, as well as some Riot Act tracks. A standout by Riot Act is their rendition of Aaron Copeland's "Fanfare For The Common Man". Rick's guitar sails along, singing on the main melody, but also kicking out jamming solos. Move over ELP.
Riot Act - "Live At Suma" (Neurosis Records 2000, originally released 1996)
Riot Act - "Approach With Extreme Caution" (Neurosis Records 1999/2000)
Riot Act - "Maniacal Disastrophe Tour" (Neurosis Records 2000)
Riot Act is Rick's power trio band with bassist Jack Ambrose and drummer John Cek. Rick's solo CD's rock hard and include lots of complex progressive rock structures. But Riot Act, though similar to much of what's heard on Rick's solo albums, consists of pure balls-to-the-wall power trio heavy rock. Rick's pyrotechnics are ever-present and the rhythm section of Ambrose and Cek is a potent one. Ambrose and Cek also share the vocal duties adding a bit of variety to the singing for those who might not care Rick's voice.
Live At Suma is actually live in the studio, though it completely has the feel of a live show, and indeed it's clear that live performance is the environment in which this band thrives. The passion and incredible playing of Hendrix and Trower meeting the pure power of Nazareth and Mahogany Rush, and maybe even Led Zeppelin in Riot Act's music. There some mellower moments but the pace is overwhelmingly relentless and while I was continually blown away by Rick's playing on all his solo CD's, his power as a kick-ass rock guitarist really hits home on Live At Suma.
Approach With Extreme Caution includes more of the same type of heavy rockin' power trio songs. There are four songs at the end that aren't credited on the CD and I think they may all be covers. One is a rousing version of "Whipping Post" that would make the Allmans proud and includes some of Rick's most lightening fast solos. Another is "I'm A Man" by... damn, I forget... Spencer Davis Group? You'd all know it if you heard it. A classic from the 60's. The other may be a cover or an original, but it's got some absolutely kicking heavy rock acid guitar from Rick. Fantastic. Maniacal Disastrophe Tour is... well... I was close to feeling I would recommend Live At Suma as the place to start with Riot Act... but this is the one. Make no mistake, all three of these CD's rocks HARD and include amazing playing from all three musicians. But somehow the playing and songs on Maniacal Disastrophe Tour seemed to be the most mind-boggling and riveting. Killer bluesy, acidic, and downright heavy ROCK. Whether fast paced or easy going, the passion is at a peak and your heads will be banging the stage as Riot Act burn down the house. A great album.
Phewwww.... that's a lot of music. If you've read this far then I'm sure I've aroused your interest in Rick Ray's music and I hope this overview provides you with some guidance. I sure had fun diving so deeply into his music and I'm VERY excited about getting to see him perform at the Strange Daze 2001 Space Rock Festival in Cleveland on October 26-27. If you're in the area don't miss it.