(All Album Reviews by Duncan Glenday)
Style : Blues rock, with a strong jazz influence
Rating : 2 out of 5
Summary : Very good within its style – but you gotta like stuff like this to like this stuff. A tough album to describe – so read carefully:
Into The Hands Of Sinners threatens to revive many time-worn arguments. First among these is … what is Progressive Rock? For all its 1970s style, guitar virtuosity and long instrumental passages, this album is not progressive rock. That is an observation, not a criticism. What it is is very well executed blues rock, with a lot of fusion overtones, and some progressive elements. But it is not prog. (Let the arguments begin!)
This album is defined by poor vocals, and by blistering clarinet vs. guitar interplay. It is sometimes hard to tell which Rick is the biggest virtuoso – Rick Ray on guitar, or Rick Schultz on reeds.
Which brings up the second time-worn argument – the one about technical skill vs. musicianship. Andy Latimer, David Gilmour and Steve Hackett are exceptional guitarists – whose guitar work contributes to the music rather than dominating it. Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and (now) Rick Ray fall into the second category. They are exceptional guitarists – whose brilliant guitar work is the primary purpose behind their albums. Arguably, it becomes boring after the first several solos. (Let the next round of arguments begin!)
The style of the guitar work is pure ‘70s, and you will hear many modern-day guitar school warm-up exercises imbedded in the solos. Some elements of the album are reminiscent of Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears, and in places, Frank Zappa. It is easy to imagine this music on the soundtrack of a Vietnam war movie. That era's blues/rock sound, plenty of protest and aggression, and lots of attitude.
Many tracks on the album are very tightly composed, and it is a real treat to hear the tradeoffs between the two principal guitarists, the bass, and that clarinet that thinks it's a lead guitar. But many tracks are not at all tight, and these guys jam very well – if you like jamming. But in places it just amounts to filler.
Bass aficionados take note: Many tracks feature a very jazzy bass, played very well, in the high registers, dominating the sound.
Four separate people sing lead vocals on Into The Hands Of Sinners, yet what the Rick Ray band really needs is a vocalist! Phil Noch sings 5 tracks, and never seems comfortable. His voice sounds breathless and has limited tonal range, and the others are just a little better.
The weakest point on this album is its production, which also sounds like it came from the ‘70s.
Three tracks stand out: “You're Not Alone” features great dueling guitars, which fade into a rhythmic background sound while the best reed solos on the album take center stage for a while, then it's back to the guitars. Very tightly played. A few of the earlier riffs sound like early-era Beatles
“Loriann” is a 5-plus minute pure instrumental classical guitar piece. (Yes, classical guitar!) An acoustic guitar picks a gentle, melodic rhythm, while the classical guitar builds a complex melody, and gentle background keys add mood. Compared with the rest of Into The Hands Of Sinners, this piece is really laid back, and you could be listening to Julian Bream! It is the best and most lyrical display of Rick Ray's true talent, and is an excellent piece by any standards.
“The Road To Freedom” is a 6-minute ballad. Noch's vocals are at their worst here, really shaky, playing hunt-the-note. The song starts with a great dual acoustic guitar passage, then an acoustic guitar picks out the rhythm, & there are some really nice lead guitar solos. Not the fastest on the album, but they seem to hold more emotion, and more tune.
If you take nothing else out of this review, at least remember this: Above all, this album just drips with attitude! It is a guys kind of sound, played by guys kind of guys who like what they're doing, and damn the critics!