Album Review – Ray Scott’s “Billboards & Brake Lights”

Ray Scott has been a lot of things over his 18-year career. He’s been a major label artist recording for Warner Bros. Nashville. He’s been a songwriter for folks like Randy Travis and Clay Walker. And he’s been one of country music’s most steady traditionalists though one of country’s most decidedly non-traditional eras. Since his 2005 major label release My Kind of Music, Ray Scott has also been staunchly independent.

His catalog is certainly country, though at times you’ve had to sift through songs that seem to be aimed at radio play or widespread appeal that a traditional performer like Scott is probably not going to receive, just to find the better Ray Scott songs. Scott is also not one for taking himself or country music too seriously, and will record an offbeat song or two, making it difficult for some to come to a sober conclusion about his music.

But his new album Billboard & Brake Lights doesn’t come with any of this baggage. Along with being a clinic on true country songwriting that’s executed with perfection to fit within the traditional country canon, it might be Ray Scott’s best record ever.

Earlier this year, Scott released the album Wrong Songs: Musings From The Shallow End, which was full of silly songs and sarcasm. It’s a side-splitting good time, and perhaps got that side of his personality all out of his system so he could focus on more serious stuff for this new one. Check out the song “Santa’s Sack” if you’re feeling festive. But it was also masking a tragedy in Ray Scott’s personal life.

Very shortly after commencing the recording of Billboards & Brake Lights, both of Ray Scott’s parents died, and only three weeks apart. Leave it to life to impart real-world inspiration and change your perspective. Ray Scott has always been a great songwriter. But after the death of his parents, he set out to make an album that would substantiate this once and for all, and for all time.

Billboards & Brake Lights is a lot of things. In one respect, it’s autobiographical, with songs like “Ripple” about leaving your mark, and “Billboards & Brake Lights” being taken directly from Ray Scott’s life as a musician. It’s also about devotion, with the run of songs “I Fall In Love With You Again,” “Hey Fool,” and “Keeper” being one of the greatest troika of songs about loyalty you will find in any era of country music.

And of course, thoughts on death and mortality play a major role as to be expected. “Long Black Cadillac” could be considered the Ray Scott version of “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” The final song on the album, “I’ll See You Again,” was written the morning of Ray’s father’s funeral, and performed for him and his mother. You can’t get more real than that.

Produced by award-winning keyboard player and songwriter Jim “Moose” Brown, Billboards & Brake Lights features top-notch musicians and musicianship as well, including contributions from Jenee Fleenor on fiddle and mandolin, and Eddie Bayers on drums. There’s no forays into country rock or contemporary radio production to contend with here. Ray Scott serves this one straight, not to mention underpinning it all with his deep, woody voice that was built to deliver good country music.

For many other artists, Billboards & Brake Lights would be like a Greatest Hits compilation of all of their quality songs. You hear a song like “Superman” and wonder how someone else hadn’t written this song before. But for Ray Scott, it’s just his latest studio record. He’s always had this in him. It just took a poignant moment to get it out of him.

Ray Scott is one of those country artists who feels super popular and completely unknown all at the same time. Those who know him swear by his music. For those just discovering him, Billboards & Brake Lights will be all you need to hear to believe he’s one of this generation’s greatest singers and songwriters who deserves significantly more attention.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8.2/10)

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