Boo Ray – Tennessee Alabama Fireworks

One of the better new albums in way too few listening rotations comes from Boo Ray, a modern traveling troubadour with deep Southern roots.

His latest offering, Tennessee Alabama Fireworks, gets its name from a ragged old sign found where I-24W veers near the state line between Alabama (Heaven if the Lord was there, according to Charlie Daniels) and the country music hotbed of Tennessee. The sign signifies a Southern gothic landscape, dotted with last chance fireworks emporiums, fading “See Rock City” barns, and billboards bearing Hellfire and brimstone warnings.

Ray inhabits this realistic view of the South, as seen from the interstate routes frequented by touring musicians, with vivid characters including the “troubadour king” and “Cadillac queen” in the song “Honky Tonk Dream,” the wise mamas behind the free advice in “Outrun the Wind,” and the broken-hearted pill-popper in “She Wrote the Song.” Listeners get to know these nameless characters well in four minutes or less and, depending on their own presuppositions about rural life, root for them to overcome the odds or meet their demise – It’s hard not to feel strongly invested, one way or the other.

Ray’s album represents more than an A+ final project for a doctoral level songwriting course. He also delves deep into rock ‘n’ roll, soul, and other popular sounds beyond folk and country music. For example, “Gone Back to Georgia” sounds like roots rock with horn accompaniment, while “Don’t Look Back” and “20 Questions” resemble something from Macon, Ga., the longtime home base of Capricorn Records and The Allman Brothers Band. Another great example, “We Ain’t Got the Good,” draws inspiration from the West Coast country-rock tradition – despite a title straight from the dialect of Dixie.

In all, Ray does as an Americana artist should, uplifting what’s great about country music in spite of trends while freely exploring the less twangy output of such popular music legends turned Americana influencers as Tom Petty, Mavis Staples, John Prine, and others representative of the music out there beyond popular country and what’s left of rock.

Boo Ray
Tennessee Alabama Fireworks
[BRRB Music]