Best known as legendary punk/art rocker Patti Smith’s longtime guitarist, Oliver Ray has been, according to his bio, “writing songs for decades,” but only now is emerging as an offbeat, though often quite fascinating, solo artist. As a vocalist, he’s kind of like a laid back, Dylanesque, slightly lugubrious acquired taste, but his slow, dreamy storytelling may just prompt your ears to itch for the next line as he builds his narratives.
Under the Brian Eno-esque guidance of Bay Area producer David Glasebrook (Peter Case, Sugar Candy Mountain), Ray’s first foray into the indie waters feels uniquely experimental, varying styles from psychedelic, trippy and distorted guitar driven rock (“Ol’ Coyote,” “Bye Beautiful”) to bluesy front porch folk (“Setting Sun,” “Wise Blood”). There are also offbeat moments of ambient, symphonic grandeur, as on the mind-bending, gloom rock ballad “Tower and the Star” and the soulful tone poem “Edge City.” One of the more compelling aspects of Out Passed Nowhere is the way Ray and Glasebrook merge their talents into what comes across as a singular vision, where voice and vibe marry and honeymoon like lovers who went to the bar once too often (but are having a blast being a bit quirky and weird).
Rather than follow a conventional roadmap, the two create a fresh and inspired sonic soundscape for each track, allowing the sounds to build and resonate emotionally long after that first listen. Sometimes less is more, and Ray’s soulful drawl shines through on the sparser productions.
Too often, though, the distortion around his voice blends into the synthesis of sounds, merging into the whole picture rather than standing out. Though that may frustrate those who like his voice, that, like every drop of creative energy that went into this unique flow, seems to be driven by a grand design and a defiance to be different.