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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Ray Renzi Project - Oldzkool

The Ray Renzi Project – Oldzkool
2011, Oldzkool Records

In an age of genre hyphens, there are acts out there that blend so many styles they make the word genre practically obsolete.  Rhode Island's The Ray Renzi Project is one such act, blending jazz, rock, blues, country, R&B, Celtic, folk and more than a little Jimmy Buffet into an ever shifting musical patois that is as unpredictable as it is appealing.  All of this is evident on The Ray Renzi Project's album Oldzkool, a solidly appealing conglomeration of anything and everything you ever could have wanted out of the pop music era.

Oldzkool opens with "As Simple As", a catchy, straightforward rocker with Americana and blues in its ancestry.  It's philosophical and mellow song of love with a philosophical bent, supported by some impressive guitar fills.  "How Strong Is My Love" is a straight-ahead rockin' blues tune that is more entertaining musically than lyrically.  Renzi and his band have an ear for catchy blues/roots based rock n roll, with nods to both Mark Knopfler and Eric Clapton for style.  "Love Will Find It's Way" is a 1960's-style pop ballad with a memorable melody and a classic feel.  The song may sound a bit bland up against the material that precedes it, but is refreshing in its melodicism and pure pop sensibility. 

Renzi channels Jimmy Buffett on "A Cold Margarita" while working in references to artists such as Buffett, Alan Jackson and Bertie Higgins, amongst others.  It's a bit of kitschy fun that's part tribute and part parody, but very well played.  "Jazzette" is a brief instrumental diversion that makes the most of saxophone and guitar in a convincing jazz turn.  It's a solid change of pace that highlights the range and depth of the band.  "Come On Over" is 1950's rock/R&B with a walking bass line.  Catchy and enjoyable, the song features some of the best vocal work on the album, both in the lead and in harmonies.  "I Don't Know Why" moves forward into the mid-1960's with a roots-rocker built on a post-Beatles melodicism and a catchy beat.

Renzi goes for the heart on the Orbison-esque "So Alone Tonight", a song of sadness underscored by the mournful steel guitar that fills space between vocal lines.  Beautiful in its dark emotion and shading, the song is a time-machine moment that will bring you back to the days when artists such as Orbison were regulars on the Billboard charts.  "Flanagan's Shannon View" is a dose of pure Irish-Caribbean stew, a Jimmy Buffett-style number played with country instrumentation and deep Celtic influences, it's certainly an aural experience you won't forget.  It's actually not bad, although so many steps off the beaten path it might be something of an acquired taste.  Oldzkool goes out in a blaze of surf guitar, on the Dick Dale-styled "Surfette".  It's a solid, guitar-led instrumental rant that is so out of flow with the album it belongs.

The Ray Renzi Project has but one focus on Oldzkool, crafting original tunes inspired by some of the great artists and styles of the 1950's, 1960's and early 1970's.  The band is very competent, with Renzi solid on vocals and guitar, and the rest of the crew backing him note-for-note through an extremely varied set of songs and styles.    The Ray Renzi is the ultimate cover band playing songs you've never heard before, but which sound suspiciously familiar the first time you listen.  This is done with an amiable presence that shines through even from the recording studio; a care free attitude that could only be born of the golden age of rock n roll.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Ray Renzi on his website.  Additional information about the Oldzkool project is available hereOldzkool is available from as a CD or Download.  The album is also available on iTunes.

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