There’s no mistaking the voice of Ray Scott. It is a pure country voice through and through. Blessed with a Johnny Cash baritone and the wit of Jerry Reed, Ray displays both over the 11 songs on his fourth album, the self-titled Ray Scott. A mix of roadhouse foot-stompers, stone-cold country ballads and the sing-speak songs for which he’s become known, Ray Scott flashes with the energy and verve that defined Ray’s earlier hits “My Kind of Music” and “Those Jeans.” But the album is also a reintroduction.
“It’s a reboot—or a Ray-boot, if you will,” quips Ray, who dubbed his last album Rayality. “It is an evolution, but I think people will hear it and know it’s the same guy from ‘My Kind of Music’ and ‘Those Jeans.’ Lyrically, I tend to say things a certain way. You can always tell it’s me.”
And there’s good reason for that, aside from that rumbling voice. Save for a few trusted cowriters here and there, like Mark Stephen Jones, Tony Mullins and Brandy Clark, Ray prefers to write solo. In this era of five-plus writers collaborating on a single song, Ray is a true lone wolf.
“Collaboration is fun and some of my favorite things have been written with other people, but at the same time, if you can write by yourself, you should,” Ray says. “There was a time in Nashville when people wrote alone. Some of my favorite old writers, the people who got me interested in doing this in the first place—5 and Bob McDill—wrote alone.”
The results of such a writing style are pure, unfiltered songs, the undiluted vision of the artist.
“I’ve always recorded my own material because it’s almost impossible for me to sell a song that someone else wrote. I was more or less made to tell stories through my own window—and the window’s pretty smudged sometimes,” Ray laughs. “But if I can entertain myself, I feel like other people might be entertained as well.”
The tracks on Ray Scott are certainly entertaining. These are story songs that, instead of just repeating a catch phrase over and over, actually go somewhere. “Papa n Mama,” a loping blues number, is the tale of a son who stops his father— permanently—from abusing his mother, landing himself in the pen. “It Ain’t Gonna Be You” is a defiant kiss-off to a cheating lover, promising she’ll never break this guy’s heart again. The cinematic “Leave This World,” however, is the polar opposite: a love song of devotion elevated by Ray’s Male Vocalist of the Year-worthy performance, proof that Ray’s bread and butter isn’t just in the spoken word.
Still, there is magic in those recitation numbers, especially in “Tijuana Buzzkill.” A true tale of a disastrous, if humorous, south-of-the-border adventure that ended with Ray and his buddy in jail, the track exemplifies Ray’s gift for wry storytelling.
“There’s just as much an art to recitation as there is singing. It’s all in how you emote, your emphasis and how you tell a story,” he says. And it helps if you have comic timing, which Ray does in spades. In songs like the hazy bonus track “What Works for Willie” and the take-one-for-the-team anthem “The Ugly One,” he delivers the pay-off lines with the cadence of a comedian.
“The songs end up being a little on the polarizing side,” Ray admits. “But I love that. Everything I’ve ever had any luck with was a song that made people turn their head and go, ‘Well, that’s different’ or ‘That pisses me off.’”
Produced by Dave Brainard (Brandy Clark’s 12 Stories, Jerrod Niemann’s Free the Music), Ray Scott excels in the details—the swampy harmonica of lead-off track “Cookin’”; the mariachi horns of “Tijuana Buzzkill”; and the hypnotic rhythm of the white-trash nursery rhyme “Wheels on the House.” In the end, no two songs sound alike, and Ray cements himself as a deft performer, able to toggle between those funny tunes and serious fare like the staggering “I Miss the Days.”
A bittersweet ballad about being young, “I Miss the Days” is a slice of nostalgia, both in subject matter and production. Sonically, it recalls the 1970s and ’80s sound of country music.
“That’s exactly what we were going for. If you listen to an old Waylon Jennings record or something from that time period, a lot of those songs had a ‘Luckenbach’ vibe to them,” says Ray, who agrees that today’s country music frequently borrows some of the bombast of late ’80s hard rock. “But I’m a little more Waylon and a little less Warrant.”
In the end, Ray Scott furthers Ray’s identity as a modern day outlaw, not in image, but in his approach to the music industry.
“After all these years in Nashville I’ve never been willing to compromise my artistic vision as far as writing goes or the way things are recorded and produced. I don’t chase trends, which is not necessarily your quickest road to riches by any means,” he says.
“But at the end of the day, I’d like to walk outside my trailer, look up at the sun and say, ‘I did it the way I wanted.’” Ray stops to laugh. “When the cops come to serve the warrant, at least I’ll have my integrity—integrity and a beer.”