Classic Album Review-Ray Price “Night Life”
Greetings from Asheville, where there’s always good music on the turntable, in the CD, or on the MP3. I’m excited about this album. Many Country connoisseurs, along with album aficionados have labeled this release a classic, some even going as far as to say one of the best albums, ever. Is it? We’ll soon find out. The song “Night Life” certainly would rank as one of Willie Nelson’s shining moments as a writer, as for the whole album, Night Life may well be Ray Price’s shining moment in the album world. It was Ray’s first charting LP. Released by Columbia in April, 1963, when Billboard magazine began publishing a Country Album chart in January, 1964, it was still selling well enough to appear. And not only that, in the chart’s second week of existence, it was the number one album. Overall, it would be the first of five number one albums for Ray, along with being the first of seventeen top ten albums during his career. Three singles can be found on the album, including one top ten effort.
The album opens with an introduction that starts with a thanks to fans for their reaction to Ray’s previous album, along with some information about the makings of this album.
With the brief intro out of the way, the music starts cookin’ and that first track, the title track, is as pleasing as a Carolina barbeque with a perfectly cooked hog with just the right zing in the sauce. As I mentioned, the song itself, is one of Willie Nelson’s shining moments as a writer. But in my book, no one, not even Willie himself, can do this track like Ray Price. From the lonely steel guitar sound interspersed with touches of traditional Country and Nashville Sounds, an argument could be made that this may well be the perfect Country recording. As a single, “Night Life” only peaked at twenty-eight and was actually the B-side of “Make The World Go Away”. Still, a true classic.
“Lonely Street”. Another great Country song, though it was first a Pop hit for Andy Williams. It would not get it’s due as a Country hit until Rex Allen Jr.’s version in 1977. I love Ray’s version. Simply incredible is Ray’s version.
Next, Ray tackles the Hank Thompson classic “The Wild Side Of Life”. As always, on these songs, Ray’s backing group, The Cherokee Cowboys, play some incredible sounds, and for them, the highlight may well be on this track. I’ve always been a big fan of Hank’s version, but Ray’s is no slouch, to say the least. A quicker pace than the original, utilizing Ray’s by now-standard shuffle beat.
My first exposure to the song “Sittin’ And Thinkin’” is a version that Charlie Rich recorded around the same time as this album was produced. Charlie’s version is more Pop with some Blues and Country mixed in; Ray’s is Country all the way, and what we have are two completely different interpretations of this song, yet both work extremely well. Ray’s is quicker, and just a great sound.
“The Twenty-Fourth Hour” actually dates from 1961, when it was released as the B-side to Ray’s big hit, “Heart Over Mind”. Despite it’s placing as the B-side, it still managed to find itself in the top fifteen as “Heart Over Mind” was racing into the top five. Of his charting singles, I think it’s one of the more underrated ones. Very good song. NOTE: I won’t say for sure whether this is the single version or a rerecord. If not the original single, then they did a whale of a job making it sound like it is.
I think what may be most incredible about Ray’s music, is there’s nothing fancy about it; most of the songs have a similar beat, granted the compositions themselves are often quality, but Ray’s singing and his band’s playing are just at a level that they really could do the phone book and it would sound good. It’s the same with side one’s final cut, “A Girl In The Night”, a song that is melodically and lyrically, reminiscent of Ray’s classic “City Lights”. It would be fun to spin them back-to-back.
Side two opens with the other single from the album, “Pride”. Those in my age range may well remember Janie Fricke’s 1981 version, but long before her record snuck into the top fifteen, Ray’s version was hitting the top five in the fall of 1962. It’s a great version, with some great vocals, including those trademark harmonies that are heard on many of Ray’s music, that simply add to the lush beauty of these recordings making them perfect examples of what Country music sounds like at it’s best.
No real drop-off with “There’s No Fool Like A Young Fool”. You’ll like the steel guitar work, here, too. Another strong song that really shows off Ray’s exceptional range.
“If She Could Only See Me Now” is another song that could have been a good single (as most of the songs that weren’t, here). Great beat with that shuffle, and a fine melody, Ray makes it sound like it was written just for him.
One thing I like to make mention of is when a song has an interesting or complicated set of chords or key changes or rhythm. Done well, any of those can really add much to a track. You get that with the intro to “Bright Lights And Blonde Haired Women”. I can see where this one might get some folks on the dance floor. Ray’s shuffle with just the slightest hint of Jazz or Swing added; it makes for a lethal combination. Be forewarned, you may well find yourself hitting the repeat button for this track, it’s that catchy.
You will not be disappointed, either, with “Are You Sure”. The song itself, decent; with Ray Price singing, excellent.
In 1955, Ray released a single titled “Sweet Little Miss Blue Eyes”. On the B-side was a song titled “Let Me Talk To You”. Ray rerecorded that song for this album. While it would be a couple of years, yet, before his change to the full lush sounds, even here, he was experimenting with a softer, slicker song, as evidenced on hits like “Make The World Go Away” and “Soft Rain”. This recording is similar in arrangement, with a softer string section, as opposed to the twin fiddle sound. I supposed I’m like most, when I say he was at his best with the traditional sounds, but I also like his slicker music, as well, he was simply a great ballad singer, as evidenced here.
There is no plausible excuse for an album such as this one to not be on the market, even after forty-seven years. The good news is that no excuse is needed, as it’s available both in CD and MP3 download formats. As for used copies, figure around $8-$10.
No question that “Night Life” is the Standout Track. As for a Hidden Gem, it would almost be a simple way out to say all of the rest of the non-singles. But I will narrow it down to one, as tough as it may be, and I think I will go with “Bright Lights And Blonde Haired Women”, because I really like that intro. But really, you could make a good argument for anything, here. Needless to say, no Weakest Track.
Overall, this is an outstanding piece of work. Long considered a classic, that’s a label that’s well deserved; this is a classic album. And further evidence of the statement I always seem to make, Ray Price isn’t a singer, he’s a stylist. This one simply is a must for any collection. I rate it a 5 out of 5.
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