The debut album from Oliver Ray, Out Passed Nowhere, begins with the humble harmony of “Ol’ Coyote,” one of two singles released ahead of the record, and inside of this four minute opening salvo our lead singer sets the tone for every stitch of melodic majesty soon to come after it. Ray’s smoke-stained croon is backed by an effervescent, guitar-driven sway that will lead us directly into the thirsty percussion of “Ready,” one of Out Passed Nowhere’s most charming songs. Here, the strings bounce off of the drums’ quaint drumming and leave a spindly little groove in their wake that, if consumed at a loud enough volume, will draw the attention of anyone who happens to be within earshot. His backing band is superb, but there’s no doubt who is making the loudest thunder in these tracks.
“Setting Sun” slows down the tempo that we left off with in “Ready,” and effectively clears out some space for Ray to unleash his most emotional vocal of the whole album. This song is more of a bridge between the simpleton string work of “Ready” and the mind-bending melodicism of “Best Game in Town,” the second of the aforementioned singles released prior to Out Passed Nowhere’s June 7th drop-date. In this track, Ray conjures up a sort of sequel to Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More” that is decidedly darker in tone from the get-go, but that doesn’t stop the song from capturing our attention without having to employ any indulgent virtuosities that would have most likely watered down the narrative in the lyrics.
“Bye Beautiful” comes creeping out of the scattered ashes left behind by “Best Game in Town” and increases the reverb to make it seem as though we’re lost on a deserted plain in the dead of night, with little more than Oliver Ray’s soft voice to lead us back to the safety of the light. “Tower and the Star” doesn’t do much to brighten the mood, but for what it lacks in upbeat swing it more than makes up for in thought-provoking textures, which it features in spades from beginning to end. Emotions run high once more in the punkish diatribe “Queen of Never,” but by now, most listeners will find themselves quite well-adapted to the rollercoaster ride that Ray has designed for us here.
With the folky fretwork of the mostly-instrumental “Wise Blood,” Oliver Ray prepares us for the anthological closing number “Edge City,” a song that takes pieces from all eight of the tracks that preceded it and mashes their melodies into a singular force of nature that leaves an undisputedly long-lasting mark on any true blue music fan. In a haze of harmonies and lap steel guitar, Out Passed Nowhere suddenly comes to a stop, and we’re left only with the stinging impact that its unparalleled poetry and tenderly tuneful musicianship could muster for us. I had a lot of high hopes prior to getting my hands on a copy of this record, and I’m happy to report that they weren’t so high that Oliver Ray was incapable of satisfying every last one of them. This is the cream of the crop, and it couldn’t be arriving at a better time of year.