Carl Ray’s latest album opens with a sweet introduction from his mother helping to establish his country cred. As Ray’s mother puts it, he comes from a long line of men who loved to wear cowboy hats, so she could have guessed he would have ended up in the country music world. Though as a young man, his interests lay more in the R&B genre, and he has worked with and written songs for reggae and jazz artists, his heart has belonged to country music for many years now. However, Ray has moved his focus just a bit, and his new record, Coming Home, is packed with ten solid bluegrass Gospel songs.
Ray handles the lead vocals throughout the album, offering listeners a fine, soulful tenor voice that fits well with the traditional bluegrass instrumentation. With a lineup of top-notch musicians to help him, including Darrin Vincent (bass), Seth Taylor (guitar and mandolin), BJ Cherryholmes (fiddle), Josh Swift (reso-guitar), Jesse Baker (banjo), and Tim Crouch (fiddle), the music is smooth and professional, creating an overall enjoyable listen.
Ray penned four of the songs here, including the opening track, The Lord Will Make a Way. Beginning with the aforementioned introduction from Ray’s mother, in which she also shares her personal experience of God’s healing power, it’s one of the album’s highlights. A rolling mid-tempo number, it touches on several of Jesus’s miracles detailed in the Bible, reminding listeners that “if you trust and never doubt, He will surely bring you out.” Get on Board has a cool jazzy vibe that’s not often heard in Gospel music. Ray’s vocals work well with the guitar and dobro to create an urgent tone as Ray urges listeners to choose God before it’s too late.
Also from Ray’s pen is Sanctified, co-written with Rev. Delano Paige, which has an easygoing melody but is still full of joy as Ray rejoices in being redeemed from sin. Aaron McCune offers strong bass vocals on a number of songs throughout the album, but this is one of his best performances, nicely layered under Ray’s high lead. The album closes on a cheerful note with Sing World a Love Song, which includes bright fiddle and an encouraging message.
Most of the other songs here are familiar hymns or classic numbers that listeners are sure to appreciate. Hallelujah I’m Ready is played at breakneck speed, with fiery banjo and fiddle, and deft vocals from Ray. Power in the Blood takes the tempo down a bit with a bouncy, laidback melody and a beseeching note in Ray’s voice. The Old Rugged Cross is filled with sentiment and includes a guest vocal from Rhonda Vincent, whose voices blends perfectly with Ray’s. Another strong number is the title track (sometimes known as Lord I’m Coming Home), which is earnestly sung and laden with emotion.
Ray may be new to the bluegrass world, but he’s no novice when it comes to singing. He truly has an excellent voice with plenty of heart. He adapts to the various tempos on the album, moving from the frenzied pace of Hallelujah I’m Ready to the slower, more poignant hymns with ease. Coming Home will be a welcome addition to listeners’ bluegrass Gospel collections. I look forward to hearing more from Carl Ray.
For more information on Carl Ray, visit his website. His new album can be purchased from several online music retailers.