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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Review: Ali Gray - Johnson Street

Ali Gray - Johnson Street
2009, Starlilly Records

Minnesota native Ali Gray flies in the face of convention. Her first album, Let You In was roots rock with a country feel. Recorded with producer Patrik Tanner, Let You In had Ali Gray on track to run with the likes of Martina McBride and Faith Hill. Gray's apparently never heard that success tends to breed conformity, so when she set out to record her sophomore album, Johnson Street, Gray decided to go for more of a Rock N Roll sound. Drawing on a mid-western sensibility, a little bit of that Americana feel and some good old fashioned classic Rock N Roll, Gray has fashioned an album that should do more than just compete for a spot on year end lists.

Gray comes roaring out of the box with an unrepentant kiss-off song with a bit of blues-rock guitar in its ancestry in Out Of My Way. Gray has the clear tone of a Faith Hill while having a bit of that rough-road quality that Bonnie Raitt brings to the fore. This is one rocking song and is stylistically ambiguous enough to have a shot at crossing over between Rock and Country formats. (You'll Never Make A) Mrs. Out Of Me is kiss-off song, part two. Less brazen than Out Of My Way, Mrs. Out Of Me is more cutting and personal; a great tune with a melody you'll want to sing along to. Till The Stars Go Away would make a great radio single, sounding like it stepped right out of the 1980's. The song is very catchy and memorable and isn't fluffy like your typical Pop/Rock song. Gray goes for reverie and longing on Dream You Again, and her voice takes flight on a song that sounds like it could be a classic.

Devil's Angels is a rockin' Country anthem for a night out on the town for a group of young ladies. The hook in the chorus will get stuck in your noggin and drag you along in spite of yourself. This song, with the right push, takes over country radio for several weeks, settling in somewhere near the top of the radio charts. Bank on it. Your Dreams is a rueful look at a relationship where dreams aren't shared but conflict one with the other. The narrator here decides to walk away, fully in love with the man, but knowing its best for both of them to have what they want, if not who. Come Over Again could be the logical epilogue, or a "transitional man song". The relationship in this song isn't about love but about hiding from and maybe even healing from a broken heart. Keys And Kisses is a song about making a clean break from an unfulfilling relationship. Gray recounts all that she's put into the relationship and what little she gets out. The arrangement is pure Pop/Country and may have real commercial legs.

If You Love Me is another surefire hit. It's a Pop/Rock love song with a bit of health skepticism woven in. The song is catchy with a memorable melody; the sort you walk around humming for the rest of the day after first hearing the song. Pretty Cameo Star sounds like the theme song of the "other woman", the one perpetually in the background who likely wants something more. Full of melancholy and regret, she longs for her moment in the sun. If Devil's Angels is an anthem for the younger set, Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad might be a theme for the disaffected married ladies in the crowd. The narrator has tired of seeing her husband running around on the seedier side of light and decides that if that's what he wants, it's exactly what he's going to get. The same young ladies that would have raised their glasses to Devil's Angels twenty years ago will be whooping it up to this one.

One of the reasons I write this blog is that every so often an unknown artist comes out of left field and simply blows you away. There are talented folks all over the world writing songs in notebooks while they hold down day jobs, and some of them are even making music on a local or regional basis. Talents like Ali Gray, while rare, do exist and deserve to heard be larger audiences than they might attract in their home markets. Johnson Street is a breath of fresh air, bouncing back and forth between Country, Pop and Blues-driven Rock. Gray has a mesmerizing voice; the sort that other artists long to be compared to. The songwriting on Johnson Street is superb, and the weakest songs might have a shot at radio play. Check out Johnson Street; this sort of album doesn't happen every day. Johnson Street is Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Ali Gray at or Johnson Street will be released on November 19, 2009. You can purchase a copy of Johnson Street from Ali Gray will be celebrating the release of Johnson Street with a release party at The Varsity Theater in Minneapolis on Thursday, November 19, 2009. If you're in town you might want to check out the show.

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