Review: Boo Ray gets explosive on 'Tennessee Alabama Fireworks'

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Rating: 8.5/10

Boo Ray titled his new album, releasing Feb. 15, Tennessee Alabama Fireworks, taking inspiration from a sign he saw regularly on I-24 in his frequent drives between Chattanooga and Nashville. But the title also does a fair job of describing the sound of the album as well, as influences from Nashville, Memphis, and Muscle Shoals come together for one big bang of a Southern rock masterclass.

Boo Ray has a lot on his mind on Tennessee Alabama Fireworks and the album's lead single and first track “A Tune You Can Whistle” sets the stage for a his thoughts on how a plugged in world and an increasing dependence on medication to regulate the flow leads to personal disconnect. In his leather boom, Ray laments “we're one nation under the influence of a cell phone computer screen. One nation under the influence of benzodiazepine.” Ray's solution? “I got a tune you can whistle, a mortar and a pestle, when life gets stuck like a mouth full of gristle.” It's a driving start to the album, one that bounces between Allman Brothers-esque guitar solos and shimmering strums.

Another uptempo album highlight is “Skin and Ink.” The “I just met you, let's have sex” trope is so overused in music that it could be argued there are no fresh ways to approach it, but Ray finds one. A man and woman's chance meeting at a bar turns into the two comparing their many tattoos, with the gradual revealing of skin to show off their ink leading to hints of other, more interesting, unclothed activities. The song makes no pretension to be anything more than it is, an unabashed guitar rocker in the vein of Molly Hatchet. The lyrics are smart, the phrases turned superbly, and the innuendos kept subtle enough to make the song playful.

Not everything on Tennessee Alabama Fireworks is a banger, though. Boo Ray knows his way around a ballad, his slow drawl punctuating the sorrow of songs like “She Wrote the Song,” which tells the tale of a lover lost to addiction. When Ray croons “it's the subtle contradictions and the sound of medication in her voice. I didn't have a choice” you can feel the pain of a necessary separation. “Don't Look Back” carefully balances Ray's love of life as a traveling musician with a weariness that comes with a life on the road. But there's more here. It's also the tale of leaving your past, good and bad, behind to live in the moment, traveling through life in a “ragtop Cadillac.”

There's been a lot written in the last few years about the “death of guitar rock” due to the rise of EDM and hip hop in the mainstream. One listen to the rockabilly licks that fill every corner of Tennessee Alabama Fireworks proves that rumors of the guitar's death have been greatly exaggerated. As long as artists like Boo Ray honor the blistering solos of Southern rockers like Dickey Betts, Allen Collins, and Mike Campbell, the future of the guitar is in good hands.

If you're in Nashville and want to celebrate Boo Ray's album release, you'll have two opportunities, both on Feb. 15, as Ray performs an in-store show at Music City's iconic independent record store Grimey's New and Pre-Loved Music, followed by a full show that night at The 5 Spot. Those are currently the only shows announced, but you can keep up with any new dates at his website.