Album review: Brian Ray – Mondo Magneto

Guitarist and ‘reluctant rock god’ Brian Ray has been lucky enough to play alongside some of the greatest musicians in history, but the magical Mondo Magneto is his first rocking foray into a solo career of his own.

While Brian Ray may be best known to many as the guitarist and the sideman to some of the giants of the music world, it is important to note that Mondo Magneto isn’t a guitarist album. Instead it is the album of a skilled and proficient songwriter. Brian can write a solid, memorable song that will linger and come back to you hours, even days later. And it is not just one or two songs on the album that possess this quality – the entire album as a magic sheen over it that can hold your attention and keep you intrigued and entertained.

The album also features many skilled musicians including, but definitely not limited to, Oliver Leiber (who Brian later went on to create indie rock band The Bayonets with) to fellow Paul McCartney touring bandmates Abe Laboriel Jr, Rusty Anderson and Paul “Wix” Wickens.

Here are my thoughts on Mondo Magneto, track by track:

Good For Nothing – Opening the album with a backwards guitar that almost sucks you into the song, Good For Nothing is a brash, spacey, upbeat rocker that has some great guitar work (with some amazing effects going on) and a very nice twist of phrase in the lines “I feel good, good, good / Good for nothing.”

Vinyl – A pent up guitar riff drives Vinyl along, and the song becomes a game of how many different albums you can spot. A good second song (and apparently based on a true story) Vinyl has a subtle low-fi, almost vinyl (obviously) sounding effect on the vocals during the verses before Brian rips it up during the choruses.

Goin’ Down Swingin’ – There is a nice juxtaposition going on between Goin’ Down Swingin’s verses and choruses: The verses are minimalist, with thumping drums, a thin guitar riff that is eventually joined by bass, and a single vocal. The choruses on the other hand consist of crashing, thrashing drums and guitars and a plethora of excited harmonies. This excellent structure has a massive effect on the song.

Soft Machine – This raucous track features a sizzling vocal from Brian’s musical mentor and soul diva, the late, great Etta James. With the lyrics nicely divided up between Brian and Etta, Soft Machine shows that even in her latter years she still had what it took to light a fire in the belly of a song.

I Liked You Better – A cheeky song that a vast number of the worlds hungover population can relate to: how, in the cold light of the morning after, you realize bad decisions may have been made and you might not necessarily like the person you hooked up with as much as you thought you did the night before. I Liked You Better is completely down to earth and playfully gritty.

All I Know – The gentle All I Know is gracefully delivered and lyrically pleasing (similarly to Good For Nothing, there is nice twist of phrase in the lines “and now I know / I don’t know”). A subtle slide guitar gives the song a lonely cowboy country feel.

Coming Up Roses – A cheeky yet innocent enough dig at the George W. Bush administration, Coming Up Roses depicts his blinkered, seemingly happy-go-lucky, caviler attitude towards his war in Iraq following the 9/11 attacks. However despite the subject matter, the song is fun with its insistent one note guitar riff hustling it along.

Sub Atomic – Painting an abstract picture of a night out on the town, the hectic and over-excited Sub Atomic barrels and trips along with some absolutely superb beats laid down by the larger than life monster drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. Sub Atomic definitely constitutes as the heaviest and most different song on the album.

If You’re Leaving Me – The album’s most poignant song, If You’re Leaving Me is a moving plea as the protagonist tries to hold a relationship together. Featuring primarily only guitar, vocal and strings, this minimalist track is a perfect comedown after Sub Atomic and a surprisingly quiet and low key highlight of the album.

Anywhere But Home – Opening with a cool wide-open-plains-of-Arizona slide guitar, Anywhere But Home is a fast paced rock ballad that ratchets up the momentum to bring Mondo Magneto to a euphoric, rocking close. The track is a perfect summery of what Brian’s solo album is all about: it rocks, it has a solid memorable tune, the lyrics are good, there is passion and excitement and most importantly it leaves you wanting to go listen to the whole album over again.

Lyrically and melodically the album is first rate, and having had a lifetime to write and record Mondo Magneto, the results are amazing. You can hear the many influences coming in, be it from the 50’s rock gods of Brian’s youth, to his years on the road honing his craft with Etta James, right up to his time with the musically effervescent Paul McCartney.

All these factors have been combined, mixed up and come out as something mystically fantastic. Which is something not very often seen from a debut solo album.

As well as being able to buy Mondo Magneto from the usual sites including Amazon and iTunes, you can also purchase it over on Brian Ray’s official website. And while you’re there be sure to check out his latest musical output with The Bayonets! You can keep up to date with Brian by following his official twitter account or ‘liking’ his official Facebook page.

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