Ray Wilson’s Song For A Friend has proved to be one of my favourite albums of 2016. The former Stiltskin and Genesis frontman delivered an acoustic album of well-crafted personalised songs delivered with expressive emotion. He follows it swiftly with Makes Me Think of Home, a close musical partner that adds electrical instruments, albeit not brazenly, that mix rock, pop and prog for another fine thoughtful collection of strong tunes.
A Goth-punk heartbeat shimmers with prog undertones imbued with dark beauty throughout ‘Never Should Have Sent You Roses’, a fictional dysfunctional drama as lovers split and one contemplates suicide. The song’s conclusion is enigmatically unclear whether tragedy or an epiphany of emotional release is about to occur. As with his previous album, some well scripted videos have been produced to accompany at least two of the songs on this record, this being one of them.
‘The Next Life’ takes up a voyeuristic point of view, the narrator wary of becoming a victim as with the first number. A Simple Minds mesmeric backbeat with slight indy shiny-shoe gazing guitar inversions and a melancholic chorus mantra over which Wilson’s lead vocals rise keeps our interest. We move forward emotionally searching for something beyond despair in ‘Tennessee Mountains’ with a hookline chorus and twinkly guitar notes contrasting with its mainline shrugging acoustic guitar verses. The story continues direct into Worship The Sun’ with a mild affectation of country guitar though more singer/songwriter in overall feel, with bright keyboards and mandolin in its early section before a guitar solo concludes matters. If we consider Makes Me Think Of Home a song cycle its title trick could be viewed as the pivotal turn towards upbeat emotions. Most poignantly half way through a flute solo is followed by a long noted guitar’s with epic prog based piano playing underneath over which Wilson’s echoed voice cries out, the band enveloping the sound and moving it forward like a boat sailing out on a wavy sea towards adventure, with saxophone wailing during its outro.
While musically upbeat ‘Amen To That’ Wilson’s lyrics contrast in wry irony, considering those things we put off doing, content to be our own worst enemy and maintain the mundane status quo of our lives rather than pursue our dreams. Again there is thoughtful imagination presented by director Lukasz Jankowksi in a video made for this song that portrays pathos, humour and sex appeal too, the other side of the coin to the one for ‘Never Should Have Sent You Roses’.
‘Anyone Out There’ returns us to grim realities and drug and alcohol dependency, a musical dichotomy presented by the music numbing us with a Spanish siesta feel embellished as it builds percussively with added deep bass notes. The theme continues with ‘Don’t Wait For Me’ as the bass throbs with determination, guitar licks adding a mysterious noir feel while the first person narrative takes on the personality of a creepy voyeur. If these two fit into the perceived song cycle sequentially we must accept them as the roads less travelled, to paraphrase Robert Frost.
Wilson leaves us with cheerful thoughts, reminding us of childhood innocence and happiness and that if we can but try to capture such feelings now and again through the bleak times, we’ll get by, and hopefully with a smile on our face. ‘Calvin And Hobbes’ is a joyful ode to the Bill Watterson newspaper comic strip, with piano and keyboards prominent in the mix and some evocative harmonies, most particularly during the middle eights. Like a lone gunman riding off into the western sunset ‘The Spirit’ is gentle rock with a country flavour and even a whistling solo fading off into the distance.
Ray Wilson’s sixth solo album, Makes Me Think of Home while overall a bleaker affair than his previous outing offers objectivity and tempered counselling, and some great tunes besides. His really is a voice worth listening to.