Dec
19

Album Review – Ray Lawrence Jr. “Raw & Unplugged”

December 19, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  18 Comments

Before we get started here, let me just address the folks that will say the only reason I’m doing a review for this album is because Hank Williams III included some of Ray Lawrence Jr.’s songs on his latest Ghost To A Ghost/Guttertown release. Well of course that’s the only reason I’m doing this review, and it’s the only reason I know Ray Lawrence Jr. exists, and it’s the only reason this album exists.

And I’ll even take it step further and say even though I liked the songs entitled “Ray Lawrence Jr.” on Hank3′s album as maybe a bootleg or something you nab off of YouTube, I didn’t think they were worthy of including on a serious release. Frankly, these days I’m apt to look at many Hank3 decisions with cocked head, like a cocker spaniel looks at you when you loudly pass gas. But what the Ray Lawrence/Hank3 tracks did was got us to pay attention to this artist, and after listening to Raw & Unplugged, it is hard to say anything except that Hank3 once again deserves credit for playing pusher for another relatively unknown artist who wholeheartedly deserves the recognition.

As the title of this album implies, this is Arizona-based singer/songwriter Ray Lawrence Jr. with just him and his guitar. The album was quickly put together after Hank3 released Ghost To A Ghost, to meet the demand Hank3′s exposure created. It is in this context you must judge and listen to this album. Some albums are recorded raw and unplugged as a purposeful approach to create a desired aesthetic. This one is done more out of time and necessity.

However you want to look at the approach, this is some of the best true country songwriting I have heard all year. I am floored folks. I’ll be honest with you, knowing the context of this album going in, I didn’t think it had much chance to charm my little music heart, but that is exactly what it did. Ray’s songs are just so true, honest, well-written, and authentic, it makes his adeptness at song craft absolutely undeniable. And screw the fact that there’s no accompanying instruments here, who needs them. The strength of song is enough to make this album accessible despite it’s sparseness.

Ray is an example of how songs about truck driving and divorce will never get old in country music, as long as they’re being sung by someone who sings from personal experience, and with heart. Songs like “Check’s In The Mail” and “Just Kick My Ass To Texas” work in that timeless country manner of conveying simple wisdom through wit. “There’s Another Cheatin’ Heart” was my favorite track from the album, from the way Ray uses the simple countryism “off somewhere” to draw you in with it’s authenticity. And songs like “My Hurtin’ Will Be Done” show that Ray isn’t just about engaging lyrics, but also has a great ear at structuring the music around the mood he wishes to convey.

Ray’s guitar playing is great for the solo acoustic context; not just cord strumming, but not over noodling either. Good walks up and down, and the rhythm and cords are always present. And his voice is one of those aged, authentic instruments of song that so many a young man can try and duplicate, but aside from William Elliot Whitmore, can never match. In places the edges of the notes are frayed just so from the years of drink and smoky bars, but there is still a strength to it, and a desert twang that Ray wields with confidence. There is a little David Allan Coe to his vocal delivery.

From Homeless To Hank3: The Story of Ray Lawrence Jr.

I don’t mean to keep going back to the context of Ray’s Hank3 connection, but something I can’t drive home enough is how country this album is. This isn’t some Hellbilly kick or punk meets country as some may assume from seeing Hank3′s name, this is an album you could play for your grandmother, and you know what, she might like it. No hard language, just simple, universal country themes and stories that touch your heart from their authenticity.

Is this album like a “best of” from a songwriter whose been going at it for decades, and put all his top notch material together making a follow up an inevitable letdown? Will Ray exploit this opportunity Hank3 has given him as artists like Lucky Tubb, Bob Wayne, and Those Poor Bastards did before? Time will tell, but what I am hear to tell you right now is Raw & Unplugged is top notch. And as a pure country singer/songwriter album, I highly recommend it.

Two guns up!

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18 Comments to “Album Review – Ray Lawrence Jr. “Raw & Unplugged””

  • real deal for sure…

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  • As far as the assumtion of a compilation album of Ray’s best??? Not hardly… As a personal friend of Ray’s, I can assure you his best is yet to come. When he showed me the album I asked why he chose certain material over others. I mean the guy has a good 40-50 originals that would knock your socks off. I recorded a couple of his songs a year ago… No one knew who I was talking about back then. Now them same foks are requesting his musicat our shows… The man deserves it. -R Perez

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    • Just to clarify, I’m not saying that I assume Ray shot his wad with this release, I just think this might be a concern some people might have.

      I write weird reviews. As much as the Hank3 exposure will undoubtedly help Ray, I think in some circles it might typecast him and this album. Hank3 has become a polarizing figure over the last few years, and so I think with Hank3′s shoutout will come some assumptions about Ray that when listeners look deeper into his music, will prove to be unfounded.

      My assumption at this point is that best we’ve heard from Ray Lawrence Jr. is yet to come.

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      • Triggerman I commend you for your reviews. They are insightful and honest. Keep doing what you do…

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    • Hey Mr. Perez. 40-50 origanals that are that good is exciting. If you can say, what is the status of that tour we were talking about a while back? Now that the album is getting such positive reviews do you think someone will sign Ray to a deal? Have you heard any whispers?

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      • We are currently working on a new album. And Ray is going to do some light touring after the first of the year. It’s tough on the road but even tougher when you have a day job to support your music habit. We have talked of playing together outside of Arizona. JCT10 would most likely back Ray as a band. Look for that around mid-year…

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  • I’ve been waiting for this review! I couldn’t wait to hear more from him after the Hank3 releases earlier this year, and snatched this up as soon as I heard about it. I played some of it for my mother, who of course is older and doesn’t necessarily understand a lot of Hank3′s music and her response was, “Now he’s country!” I think that sums it up. Great review!

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  • Is he Chickentrucker from the old III DAYS? I have him on the damn fan comp….

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    • Yes! He met Hank3 through the Cussin’ Board, and would hang out on the tour bus every time he would tour through Arizona. That’s where the the Ray tracks on GTAG were recorded.

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    • He is Chickentrucker. He was on the hellbilly comp.

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  • Thanks for the heads up. Its why i come to this site. Kinda feel what you are sayin about Hank, lately Ive been wondering if Hank is selling it to me. Its my opinion is that the Ray Lawrence track(s) are by far my favorite off of the last Hank album. There was a lot of throwing around of the word “country” in this review and comments . What appeals to me is not the authentic country sound of Ray, but the authenticity of Rays lyrics. I like all sorts of music.. with the exception of progressive jazz. That said… I do demand that my country be country and not popcountryshit. My rock to be hard, and not just TRY to sound hard, and my rap to have something to say and not be about” being in da club” and “bling” and not have auto tuned lyrics. But that’s just me. I like the fact that Rays tunes speak to me on a human level. I believe its because the songs he wrote are based on his experience and come from a earnest expression of himself.

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    • Like Patrick C says, Ray’s tracks on the 3 album are my favourite as well. I also liked his comment that the only type of music he dislikes is progressive jazz. I didn’t know the name of it till now but I concur! Trig, I thoroughly enjoyed your earlier article about Ray and sure hope life is treating him kinder these days. This album is on my to-get list.

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  • i’ll be looking for this one for sure. thanks, triggerman.

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  • This guy is an honest man. That’s exactly what I thought of when I heard his songs on 3′s latest album. Ray Lawrence speaks through the heart. This is exactly what lost country fans are looking for. Musicians like Lucky Tubb and Caleb Klauder have given us hope in the country genre. Ray Lawrence can stand right next to the others as a true country artist. I thank Ray for giving us a chance to enjoy true and clean country yet again. I also thank Hank 3 for recognizing his talent and introducing us to this talented artist.

    Great review Triggerman. I’m just as excited as you.

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    • “This is exactly what lost country fans are looking for.”

      Very well put.

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  • Does anyone on here know where I can get a copy of the Damn Fans comp??? I’ve been trying to find a link to download it for several years now, but have had no luck. Any help’d be much appreciated!!!

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    • I heard about that comp in one of their live shows but haven’t heard bout IT since the feud with curb. Probably got lost to the legal side of things

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  • Yes, I am on the Hellbilly Comp and I was only known as Chickentrucker on the comp. At the time I was a trucker and played on the weekends in local bars in Cali not having any idea I would end up in Arizona recording with Hank 3 and actually being featured on his CD. I covered Hank 3′s Cecil brown on this project for the cover song. Just in case anyone did not know, when we put this compilation together the idea was to cover a Hank 3 song and submit an original song to show some of your own musicianship. My original song was The Right Time to Leave You. This song was later covered by Junction 10 along with Back in The Day ( the 2nd song on Hank 3 Ghost to a Ghost AKA the train song ). Robert Perez did an excellent job of both songs on Junction 10′s CD, Walkin Sideways. The comp is long since out of print and there was another one recorded after it with different material as I remember. Yes, Hank 3 has been a huge door opener for many artists and it is an honor to be one of those musicians. It is also a huge honor to be a part of the Valley Fever Show thanks to D J Dana. Through all this I met many great people on the road and most of the artists on the Farmageddon Records lineup and performed with a few of those fine artists. I have a new CD in the works and it is almost ready. See more about that on Facebook.

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