At the Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash gig at The Beaverwood Club recently (see my review Blog #44), I had a chat to Ray Hatfield – who is, of course, one of MT’s ‘Harmony Twins’. He kindly gave me a copy of his second solo album At The Drop Of A Hat for review. Everyone was telling me that it was a good album – and I must say, they weren’t wrong! I played it on the way home from the gig, and I liked it immediately.
When you hear a solo album from a member of a well-known band, its easy to assume that the music within it will reflect the parent group. I’ve known for many years that this isn’t necessarily the case. Although one of Ray’s songs from this collection (‘Mystify Me’) has been part of the MTWA live set for a few months now (and is scheduled to be included in the forthcoming MTWA album Written In The Stars), the rest of it is quite different from the parent band’s material. This is because Ray’s song-writing has its own influences and originality, and those things have been brought to bear – along with years of experience – in this, his own work.
This is Ray’s second solo album (the first being King Of The West, which, as yet, I haven’t heard). It is a collection of twelve original songs + a bonus track, all written by the man himself (except one penned in collaboration with others). Various family and friends were recruited to help out as necessary: Rob Hewins (drums; rhythm guitar; backing vocals; mixing); Danny Willson (the other ‘Harmony Twin’ from MTWA – guitar; backing vocals; photos); Keith Buck (pedal steel); Mark Daniels (backing vocals); Holly Hatfield (backing vocals; cover artwork); and Claire Hatfield (photos). Obviously Ray plays most of the guitar parts as well as lead vocals; and as there is no mention of a bassist on the cover, I assume he plays that too. Between them they’ve cooked up something good!
The album kicks off with ‘The Last Star’. Its a good opener, and sets the tone of the whole album really. Its a well constructed song, with nice guitar parts. A good follow up to this is the next track ‘Milky Way’. It continues the same pensive vibe. Again lovely guitar and pedal steel which enhance the Country feel to it.
‘Mystify Me’ is the song to be used by MTWA. It is the closest to the style of the parent band; and therefore highly compatible with their material – both old and new. When I interviewed Martin Turner last October before the band’s gig at Touchline Live Music in Essex (see my Blog #25), he was full of praise and enthusiasm about this song (which was debuted that very evening). Both musically and lyrically he said it was highly suitable for MTWA – and, after all, he should know! So this was the only song that I’d previously heard from the album; having been familiar with the MTWA live version since that Touchline gig last year. It was good to hear Ray’s personal version of it at last.
‘Borderline’ slows things down a bit. Its a thoughtful singer-songwriter type of piece, with a very personal lyric. There is a fantastic solo, full of feeling, on this one too. ‘Devil’s Disguise’ follows. It couldn’t be more different. Its an upbeat song with a funky vibe.
The title track is next. It is a fine, if short, instrumental. I like instrumentals; but they have to be good to keep up the interest – this one certainly does. The next track, ‘The Judgement Of Paris’, is the only one penned in collaboration with others – Willson and Hewins. Its a two-part piece starting with a fine acoustic arpeggiated chord sequence before breaking into the livelier Part Two. (‘Paris’ in this context is the Prince of Troy from Greek Mythology not the French Capital).
‘Wheels’ is a bit of rocker. Its a damn good motoring song – ‘…I was M1 southward bound…’ sings Ray – with guitar-generated doppler effect police sirens! Next is ‘Here And Now’ – its a nice little song with something of a Soul vibe to it in the verse, and a sweet harmonised guitar solo. ‘Them Pesky McCoys’ is another little instrumental – a quirky Folky / Country thing. In contrast, ‘Three Times Forgiven’ is a mild and thoughtful piece; again with fine harmonised leads – a la Wishbone Ash!
The last track from the main collection is the beautiful Folk song ‘Corfu Sunset’ – just Ray’s voice and an acoustic guitar. And finally the bonus track ‘Sinners’, is a strange one. It has a kind of Hip-Hop beat to it accompanied by a folky acoustic guitar and a tasty electric slide.
I was already well aware of Ray’s superb guitar playing, having seen him with MTWA on numerous occasions; but with this album he has demonstrated his song-writing; lyric writing, and vocal skills too. All in all its a fine piece of work indeed – one which I cannot criticise at all. I admire the sheer variety of styles that he covers – and sometimes fuses together – to make a unique and very personal album.
The CD comes in a standard Jewel Case, with basic info and personal thanks; but no lyrics. (Although these are available from Ray’s website – see below). The cover design and photos are good too.
BREAKING NEWS! A few days ago I was surprised to read that Ray would be leaving MTWA shortly. I do not know what his reasons or plans are – I can only assume that he will be forming his own band and hitting the road sometime. This seems plausible to me, as he is well-known and well thought of in the music business. It is surprising though, as the new MTWA album Written In The Stars is about to be released; and as I have said, Ray has contributed to it; so its a shame he will no longer be involved with it. His last gig with the band will apparently be the Dagenham Roundhouse reunion at the end of May 2015. It is already sold out, but I was lucky enough to get tickets; and I’m looking forward to seeing Ray for the last time with the band (see my Blog for a review shortly after). I’ll wish him good luck when I see him. It will be a great show anyway. I’m looking forward to a third album – and many more – from Ray. PTMQ
Here is a link to Ray’s website…..http://www.rayhatfield.com/