ALBUM REVIEWS

RAY WILSON 

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ALBUM RATING SYSTEM

*****

An excellent album. Strong effort from beginning to end! A must own!

****

A very good album. A few low points but, overall, a decent effort. Recommended. 

***

A good album. Several weak points detract from the album, but it's still worth owning.

**

A mediocre album. Unless you're a real fan, you might not like this album very much.

*

A poor album. Stay away from this one unless you are a hardcore fan!

 

Ray Wilson - Unplugged (a.k.a. Live And Acoustic) (2002)

WOG RATING: ***

Despite the near impossible task of following up a charismatic, ultra-successful front man like Phil Collins, Ray Wilson never attempted to sound like his predecessors in Genesis. Much to his credit, his voice stood on its own, and while his deep, refined yet raspy vocal quality may have been compared by some to that of Peter Gabriel, Ray was clearly a talented singer in his own right. Perhaps more than on any other album, Unplugged exemplifies this. Wilson's vocals take center stage on this stripped down, intimately simplistic recording from Edinburgh International Festival in 2001. Backed only by his own guitar, his brother Steve on backing vocals and guitar and Amanda Lyon on backing vocals and, occasionally, keyboards, Wilson provides both a passionate homage to past influences and a thoughtful nod to his own history not only in Genesis, but his own work with Cut, Stiltskin and Guaranteed Pure.


Ray and company pull off a full repertoire of fantastic acoustic versions of some great material. Even songs that you wouldn't think would lend themselves to an acoustic environment, like Genesis' "Mama," come off surprisingly well. Among the cover tunes, I thought that Ray's version of Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight" and The Eagles' "Desperado" were among the highlights. More than anywhere else, Ray showcases his ability to balance soulful vocals with a powerful rock presence that can make even the most skeptical listener a fan. Unlike many live albums, Ray's comments, flubs, and banter are left seemingly intact, which is a refreshing change from the over-produced, overdubbed stuff that most artists release that barely sounds like a live recording. There are a few scattered moments that didn't work very well in my opinion, but the overall performance is outstanding, and I enjoyed the disc from beginning to end. 

 

Armin VanBuuren Featuring Ray Wilson - "Yet Another Day" (CD EP)

WOG RATING: **

Based upon the Wilson penned tune "Another Day", originally performed by his former band Cut, Ray teamed up with DJ Armin VanBuuren to recreate the track into a dance hit. The rave style remix features new vocals by Ray and, if you're into that sound, the song definitely sounds like it could get some heavy rotation out on the club scene.  Sadly, the beat of "Yet Another Day" does sound great deal like many other club songs, so I don't know how much the tune will stand out amongst the competition.
I give credit to Wilson for his willingness to explore new areas, musically speaking.  If you're into the club scene and a Wilson fan, you'll love this new version. If your club days are behind you, you might find this single to be hard to get through. The single has several mixes and can be purchased on the official Armin Van Buuren website.

 

Ray Wilson - Change (2003)

WOG RATING: ***

When I first heard Change, my initial reaction was disappointment. I was hoping for more of a hard, edgy rock album in the vein of former Wilson projects with Stiltskin or Cut. The album did grow on me, however, and quickly. Change is a strong acoustic-laden pop record that suits Wilson's raspy yet powerful voice.  Of the thirteen tracks that make up the album (note: the 'special edition' version has an extra three cuts - but we will discuss them later), only a couple of tracks were a little below par. 
 

Without question, the strongest song on the release is "Goodbye Baby Blue," a beautiful tune that has more marketable commercial appeal than anything on Phil Collins' Testify or Peter Gabriel's Up albums combined. In fact, the first five tracks on Change are among the best the album has to offer. The numbers on the disc blend together with a natural fluidity that makes the whole CD seem to end in no time. The only real exception to that are the bonus cuts added to the European 'special edition.' The transition from the mellow mood of "The Last Horizon" to the loud and hard rock tune "Gouranga" is a rough transition and really shows that the tune is not intended for the release at all. Over all, the album was excellent, and one of the best Genesis related projects I've heard in quite some time. I still hope for that hard rock Ray Wilson album, but, in the meantime, as they say, 'Change is good.' 

 

Ray Wilson - The Next Best Thing (2004)

WOG RATING: ****

The Next Best Thing successfully fuses Wilson's melodic, acoustic side which was showcased prominently on his last album, Change, with the harder, more aggressive influences of Stiltskin and Cut. The end result is a outstanding sophomore studio outing with a fair mix of rousing rockers like the modernized remake of Stiltskin's "Inside", "The Fool In Me" and "Pumpkinhead"; some excellent ballads like "Sometimes", "Ever The Reason" and "Alone" and several mid-tempo cuts like "How High." The album does have a few weak tracks, including the politically/socially charged anthem "These Are The Changes," which was strangely chosen as the first single and the opening track for the album. Wilson is clearly starting to establish his own unique voice as a songwriter with this album, and while the album is not overly commercial (not necessarily a bad thing), its his best work as a whole to date. The production on this album is also far superior to anything Wilson has ever released before. 
 

 

Ray Wilson - An Audience And Ray Wilson (2006)

WOG RATING: ****

An Audience And Ray Wilson is an acoustic live album, very similar in many respects to his Live and Acoustic record. This time out, however, the recording is just Wilson and his guitar with no accompaniment whatsoever.  Initially, to be quite honest, I was a little skeptical for the need for this album. After all, eight of the 15 tracks appeared on Live and Acoustic. How different could they be, right? Well surprisingly, the interesting thing that you come to realize when you listen to An Audience is how far Wilson has come as a performer and musician from that first acoustic album in 2001 to this CD which was recorded in Warsaw, Poland, in 2003, just two years later.
 

The album is very much like VH-1's popular program Storytellers, where Wilson shares stories about his music and some cover tunes that inspired him followed by the acoustic rendition of each song. One of the qualities I like most about Wilson's live projects is that they have moments of imperfection. These sound like true live recordings and have all of the warmth and occasional warts of a real live show. They are not over-dubbed sounding chopped up live tapes with fake audience cheers thrown in for good measure. This comes across as an unblemished, undoctored live recording, which is very refreshing in this day and age. Most artists will not issue a 'imperfect' live album because they either don't sound as good live as they do in the studio or because the audience just isn't that into the music. Neither is the case here for Wilson, who comes off brilliantly. If you have not already purchased the older acoustic album, my suggestion would be to pass on it and buy this one. If you are hungry for more acoustic Wilson after that, it might make a worthy second helping, but truly pales in comparison to An Audience and Ray Wilson
 


OTHER PROJECTS FEATURING RAY WILSON:

Stiltskin - She (2006)

WOG RATING: ****

As much as I enjoyed Wilson's first two studio solo albums this is, without question, the album I have been waiting for since I heard the first Stiltskin record, The Mind's Eye, or at the very least since the Cut album, Millionairhead. While Cut had moments of the kind of hard rock prowess that Wilson's powerful voice is ideal for, She offers up a much heavier album very much in the vein of first Stiltskin disc. This time out, however, there appears to be far more mature, introspective songwriting than we heard on The Mind's Eye. Stiltskin now features Wilson, the band's original singer, and Irvin Duguid, the band's keyboardist, with an otherwise new ensemble including ex-Genesis/Cut drummer Nir Z.  Most obviously absent is co-founding guitarist/songwriter Peter Lawlor, which explains why She reflects very heavily on Wilson's own inwardly insightful style of songwriting as demonstrated on albums like Change and The Next Best Thing

The harder tracks showcased on She are balanced well with songs like the first single, "Lemon Yellow Sun," which is the kind of song that is commercial enough to get radio play in today's modern rock music scene (at least in North America) yet melodic enough to entice listeners who don't embrace typical 'popular' music. Yes, it's true, a song by a former card-carrying member of Genesis that could actually be a viable candidate for heavy radio play on rock radio! Other tracks like "Constantly Reminded" and "Sick and Tired" have almost equal commercial potential. In short, this is hands down the best album Wilson has done to date. I recommend it highly. 


 

Stiltskin - Live (2007)

WOG RATING: ****

Recorded at Bonn Harmonie in Germany on October 25, 2006 on the She European Tour, this Stiltskin live album documents the surprising reformation of Wilson's popular pre-Genesis rock band to the European concert scene. Albeit perhaps in name alone, since Wilson is the only original returning member of the group on this particular recording, Stiltskin again appears to be in top form. As I have already documented on this site, the She album was an incredibly good disc, and since this live record is largely composed of tracks from that project combined with a scattering of tunes from Stiltskin's debut, The Mind's Eye, and plus a couple of the best songs from Wilson's Cut Millionairhead project, it goes without saying that the set list featured here is first rate.
 

Much like Ray Wilson Live, the quality of the recording is exceptional and the performance on the night of this particular show was nearly flawless as the band tightly ripped through track after rockin' track. Highlights on this recording include a kick ass version of "Sarah" which is certainly the best rendition I have ever heard, plus fantastic live versions of "Footsteps" and "Inside." The songs performed from the She album are fairly faithful to original studio versions, however, I think "Lemon Yellow Sun" would have come off better acoustically rather than in an electrical setting. Overall, Stiltskin's Live album is another decent offering from Ray Wilson and company.

Ray Wilson - Propaganda Man (2008)

WOG RATING: ***

Ray's music often has a slightly darker edge at times but, despite a seeming bit of optimism at the end of the album, Propaganda Man unquestionably comes across as one of Wilson's darkest albums to date - if not the darkest. On Propaganda Man, Wilson leaves the heavier rock of the newly revamped Stiltskin largely behind him for the more acoustic sound of some of his earlier solo music meshed thoughtfully with a little electric guitar peppered in to the mix for good measure and powerful affect. The project has some very good material spread over the album's 11-tracks, but in my opinion it just doesn't stand out to me quite as much his other solo efforts, The Next Best Thing and Change, as a whole. The stand-out tracks include: "Things Don't Stop", "Lately", and "Razorlite," the last of which being my favorite from the album.
 

The production value, like that of Stiltskin's She, is first-rate and really stands out. The production quality of Ray's albums has radically improved since his solo debut and its extremely evident here. Ray's voice comes across brilliantly in the acoustic setting, and his raspy yet delicate vocals showcased perfectly here, but Propaganda Man is not my favorite of his solo efforts. The album has an undeniable ability to start to grow on you after several spins in your CD player, but it fails to resonate with me as well as some of his other solo projects have done in the recent past. 

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