'Makes Me Think Of Home’ is the second album of 2016 from singer-songwriter Ray Wilson following the acoustic ‘Song For A Friend’ release and for some artists they’d be stretching themselves a bit thin. This is not an issue for Ray Wilson as the inspiration well is far from dry and ‘Home’ is another fine addition to his solo discography that brings together multiple influences from the worlds of pop, rock and prog.
For newcomers a quick career overview might be in order (although with the depth and breadth of Ray’s work that might be difficult). Ray Wilson is either best known for the three years he fronted rock giants Genesis, which resulted in the ‘Calling All Stations’ album and world tour, or maybe as frontman for Stiltskin and the track ‘Inside’ which was a massive worldwide hit off the back of a Levi’s Jeans commercial. Dig a little deeper you’ll find further releases from his first band Guaranteed Pure and latterly Cut. All of this adds up to a pretty impressive career but really it’s his solo career, which started with a series of acoustic shows at the Edinburgh Festival in 2001, that may prove the most rewarding experience for Ray Wilson and the listener.
Impressively packaged in a hardback book digipak sleeve (for those of us who still appreciate such things and can’t embrace digital) ‘Home’ opens with ‘They Never Should Have Sent You Roses’ and the drum work of Nir Z (who originally worked with Ray in their Genesis days) is an immediate highlight while Ray’s vocal combines warmth with a slight raspy edge over guitars that are reminiscent of mid period U2. If anything the languid slow build of ‘The Next Life’ is even better as Ray reassesses his lifestyle choices while keyboards pulse (keys man Peter Hoff co-wrote the majority of the album) and Marcin Kajper steps up to take an unexpected sax solo.
‘Tennessee Mountains’ and the following song ‘Worship The Sun’ are a continuation of the same story but couldn’t be more different stylistically or musically. ‘Tennessee Mountains’ finds our protagonist waiting for the summer with only his memories for company in his snowy winter isolation. Musically it has an almost country feel courtesy of the instrumentation (the giveaway might be in the title) and the closing extended lead guitar break courtesy of Uwe Metzler is a nice touch. When the quite glorious ‘Worship The Sun’ comes along and it is apparent that things don’t always work out as planned. ‘Worship’ is beautifully constructed with Ray stretching out on the vocal over a gentle background that highlights the rhythm section, with bass player Lawrie MacMillan prominent, and the presence of Marcin Kajper’s saxophone again very welcome
The centre piece of ‘Makes Me Think Of Home’ is the title track. Ray Wilson has made a new life for himself in Poland in recent years but here looks back on his time in Scotland and the dark days locked away in his recording studio when he was faced with rebuilding his career after his stint in Genesis (a time period that Genesis the band seem to find a perverse pleasure in airbrushing out of their history). To begin Kool Lyczey's piano takes the lead over a subdued vocal until the band come in and the drums are strong and forceful, the guitars have more edge, and a darker unsettling tone is maintained and accentuated by the echo of multiple vocal lines. Then the song seems to just fade away before an acoustic guitar and a flute lead us into a stunning musical mid-section, of which Pink Floyd would be proud, as lead guitar gives way to an extended saxophone break. This is a really wonderful track and definitely a highpoint on an album that has plenty.
‘Amen To That’ was the first single from the album and shows Ray in a more relaxed light but still with a serious message about whether we are happy with our lives or could we make changes for the better (Something I find myself thinking about more and more as the years pass). Things again take a darker turn but with, hopefully, a positive outcome for ‘Anyone Out There’ a co-write with guitarist Scott Spence that features one of the best vocal takes on the album while the rumbling bass guitar and the atmospheric use of backing vocals add power, and a worrying uncertainty, to the brooding ‘Don’t Wait For Me’. Scott Spence also, solely, contributed the uplifting ‘Calvin And Hobbes’ a piano led ballad with some really nice string flourishes. The song was written for Spence’s daughter who loves the comic strip of the same name and focuses on the uplifting way in which children have unlimited imaginations. The album concludes with ‘The Spirit’ which Ray has readily admitted is inspired by ELO’s ‘Wild West Hero’ and features the expected western imagery but with whistling that owes a huge debt to the legendary Ennio Morricone and the films of Sergio Leone.
‘Makes Me Think Of Home’ is an excellent album, beautifully packaged, expertly produced (it really does sound amazing) with superb musicianship and quality songs. Ray Wilson has based his solo career of some fifteen years now on those old virtues of hard work and releasing a quality product which continues with ‘Makes Me Think Of Home’. The album comes very highly recommended.
Ray Wilson gives his thoughts on 'Makes Me Think Of Home'