The Rick Ray Band – The Gremlins Are Listening
12 Tracks – 79 minutes
Before you read down further, let’s immediately establish that in accordance with the band’s website, The Rick Ray band is “a four-piece psychedelic progressive hard rock fusion band”. Note that nowhere in the band description does the word “blues” appear. However, with some mild consideration, some tinge of blues can be found among their rock songs not unlike many of the hard rock bands such as Aerosmith or many of the British bands that play that style of music. But the reality is that the band has a unique sound that can sometimes remind of early Pink Floyd or shades of Frank Zappa or if you consider Schultz’s instrumentals in place of Ian Anderson’s flute, Jethro Tull might even come to mind.
The Ohio-based band consists of Rick Ray on guitar and vocals, Dave “Shaggy” Snodgrass on bass and vocals, Kip Volans – on drums, and Rick “Sarge” Schultz on reeds and uniquely on wind synthesizer. Rick started playing in 1973 in the band Neurotic which lasted until 1985. In 1990 he joined Riot Act which he left it in 2000. However, in 1999 he started recording under his own name then converted to the current name of The Rick Ray Band in 2003. According to a release list of albums, The Gremlins Are Listening is his 37th album release since his first in 1999. He notes that most are still available online from Bandcamp or the major streaming services or from a direct order to Neurosis Records, his apparent independent label. All twelve songs on the album are originals.
The album opens with “Escape Route”, a hard charging all out rocker with Rick’s vocals reminding of Alice Cooper with maybe an instrumental touch of Led Zeppelin with Zappa thrown in towards the end. The nine-minute title song starts with the sounds of gremlins and moves across a Pink Floyd styled landscape with some terrific guitar solos. The tone shifts from power chords to a laid- back story that establishes that gremlins are causing turmoil in our society. “Use Your Pinky Frank” rocks out again in a four- minute instrumental excursion into Zappa territory.
“Waterloo” starts very quietly in a sort of Peter Green sound with Rick Schultz’s reeds defining the track as Rick recites a tale of loss that then kicks off midway with a guitar solo run. “Atom Smasher” is another hard-rocking Zappa like song with Schultz’s wind synthesizer coming to the front with Rick’s vocals finding tones of David Bowie or Ian Hunter. “Innocent” again slows things down with Rick asking for his lawyer and proclaiming “I’m not guilty” again with a remnant of Alice Cooper in his vocals.
On another hard rocker, “You Can Take It”, Rick says to “look on the bright side, things could be worse, it’s not a curse”. “Wine and Clover” is a smooth croon that has a feel of some of the British folk groups like Fairport Convention, but like the other songs takes a deep right into a harder rock guitar melody towards the end. “Carole King’s Elbow” certainly has an unconventional title. It starts with a jazzy wah-wah guitar and a balanced bass run following with Schultz’s reed work formulizing into an overall band collaboration for a unique eight-minute collaboration.
“Life Goes Bye” gets things rocking again and moves into a free-form jazz inflected guitar and reed battle. This moves into the instrumental, “Guitargoyles”, another jazzy obviously oriented guitar track. The album closes with the seven-minute “Ladder Level”, a final instrumental deluge.
As stated up front, if you are a devout blues lover seeking the next big blues album, look away. But if you are feeling adventurous, this album with its unique sound, complex rhythms and complicated lyrics might be of interest. While I could not resist trying to find comparisons to other artists as I listened to the album, that does not take away from the album’s appeal and the fact that the band members have built a sound that ultimately is their own.