Charleston songwriter Harrison Ray hits most of the right notes on his peculiar new solo collection. Self-produced over a two-year span in a home studio room full of books, dogs, and amps, Ray carefully tracked everything with two microphones and a digital recording program. It's low-budget but high-minded and full of spirit.
Ray enlisted a few guests on the album, including pianist Trey Cooper, cellist Katie Hovis, drummer Wally Reddington, and string player Joe Marlo. Most of the instrumentation and vocals are Ray-made, though.
The opening moments of El Paraguas provide a sunny, breezy reminder of Ray's more ecstatic pop leanings. After the brief, fluttery intro "Bells," the kick-off song "Virgin Mary" springs to life with a melodic bass line, a thumpin' kick drum, prickly acoustic guitar, and Ray's whispery, trebly singing. He sounds like he's in trance. The melody twists unexpectedly during the slow break-down in the outro, though, foreshadowing more rainy day sentiments and moods to come.
The waltzy, more dreamlike "There is Love" — accented with bongos and tambourine — saunters slowly with cheap organ leading the way in 6/8 time. T-Rex or Donovan would have gladly snagged this one for a session of their own. Ray's quivering vibrato stands out on the airy, organ-driven space odyssey "Vimana."
"We live in a world that's trying to throw us off," Ray sings in the more bombastic "Old Wooden Box," an acoustic anthem with what sounds like old timpani in the background. As the songs spin and the world oscillates, Ray may feel like he's just barely hanging on, but his voice grips you pretty tightly.
Ray's trembling falsettos and high-pitched notes resemble Bono during the quieter verses of the spaced-out "Good Mother." His delicate delivery approaches the theatrical creepiness of Tiny Tim on "The New West," one of the most sparse arrangements of the collections.
The carnivalesque pop of the waltz "Green Fairy" epitomizes the bohemian vibe of the album.
While Ray sings in loose impressions and hints at falling off of his track (or off of the Earth itself), he certainly has a solid grip on his pop songcraft on this collection. El Paraguas is oddly compelling, strangely sad, and sweetly innocent all at once. Let's hope he soon assembles the right backing band to render these unique songs with the right touch on stage. (myspace.com/harrisonray)