Album Review – Ray Cardwell’s ‘Tennessee Moon’

Author: Leon Blair

Who? – Ray Cardwell as well as his band, Tennessee Moon comprised of Kyle Wood on mandolin, Richard Starkey on guitar, Kelsey Crews on banjo, and Michael Testagrossa on reso-guitar along with of course, Ray on bass guitar on vocals.
Album Release Date / Producer? – January 13th, 2017 / Pat Flynn
Genre? – Bluegrass

Opinion On The Artist’s Discography Overall Up To This Point? – This is Ray’s debut album so I can’t answer this.

Where Might Other People Know This Act From? – I’m honestly not sure. If you keep up with Bluegrass you might have heard of Ray, but otherwise I’m not quite sure.

Is There Any Sort Of Event Surrounding the Making Of This Album? – There was a Kickstarter campaign to help release this album so congratulations are in order for Ray and his band for getting it out here.

Can You Give A Brief Overview Of This New Project? – Tennessee Moon by Ray Cardwell is the sort of album with a ton of heart and character behind it…..and yet I can’t get all that excited about it. We’ll obviously get to why later, but as someone who wanted to cover more Bluegrass this year, I can’t say that this album will be one of the standouts of the year. The writing isn’t quite up to par, and while the instrumentation is mostly agreeable and has some good moments, there really isn’t all that distinctive about Ray other than his vocals, and we’ll get to those soon.

What Are The Low Points / Nitpicks Of The Project? – The biggest factor that’s going to make or break whether you like or don’t like this album is Ray Cardwell himself, more specifically his voice. Now, I’ve commented on vocals when I talked about the latest projects from Band Of Heathens and Joey McGee, and in both reviews I stated that those were my problems rather than theirs. See, Ray really isn’t a good singer, but what’s bad is that he only makes it worse at points by over-singing (a lot) and trying to go out of range such as when he tries to go for falsetto on “Open Your Eyes”.

Look, I won’t harp on this fact for a long time, but this is by far the biggest criticism I have. He’s really not good at selling the love songs mostly because when he’s trying to be sweet and romantic like on “Open Your Eyes” or “My Heart Stays With You”, he comes across as well……creepy. Then of course there’s the absolute bellowing on the track “Cry” which comes across as grating. There are a couple religious acapella numbers, and honestly, if some of you were turned off by Mo Pitney’s “Me and Jesus” then you’re probably not going to like these, but as a man of faith, yeah they’re alright, but only because the actual band provides some nice harmonies more than anything else. I will say we didn’t need three of these on the album though.

When it comes to the lyricism, even that’s not something I can really praise all that much. Outside of one song, it’s not bad so much as basic, with songs going for broad themes without really adding any sort of details to really make the songs stick out. “Sing It To The World” is an example, with the narrator proclaiming that we all need to get along by…singing to the world. Yeah that’ll do it. Coupled with Ray’s attempt at a more reggae style flow on the verses and you have a song that’s utterly forgettable. You also have “Cry” where he states that all he does is cry over his lost love, but for one, the whole song can explore something deeper besides him crying, and two, this is definitely way too upbeat and happy to play off as a sad song.

Of course, the one moment where the songwriting turns from bland to bad is on “Think About Me”, where the narrator knows his lover is cheating only to tell her that she needs to stop and think about him. For one, yeah, cheating isn’t okay, and you guys should try to work it out to make the love last, but to lead up to that hook? It comes across as arrogant and really doesn’t conjure up any sympathy from me, I’m sorry. Maybe I would if I got any details about something that might have led to her cheating or even if the song tried more for that reconciliation point of view rather than simply the narrator, but again, we don’t get those details on this album.

What Are The High Points / Praiseworthy Elements Of The Project? – Honestly, the “good” on this album comes in small doses unfortunately. There are a couple good songs here. “Whole World Round” has got some great opening guitar strums before moving on to some more minor tones and speedy picking along with one of the more memorable fiddle lines on this album. I also enjoyed how the song was a little more lyrically complex than the other tracks, telling of a drifter who needs to get away from everything. Hey, I can relate to the sentiment.

The other decent track here is “Cedar Creek Pickaway”, which again has a pretty good fiddle line and also tells of Ray’s upbringing and how him and friends learned how to play instruments from a man after school. We could use a little more details here sure, but it’s going for a darker sound much like “Whole World Round” and Ray manages to pull it off well.

I guess my other “praiseworthy” element is that again, most of these songs are at least decent and aside from “Think About Me”, they aren’t bad. I just wish there was more that stuck out here.

Closing Thoughts? – Overall I really wanted to like the debut album from Ray Cardwell. Even if he tries way too hard vocally on these songs, he’s at least pouring his heart into his work and I can at least respect that. Again, congratulations are in order as well for releasing this, I know it probably wasn’t easy. Other than that though, I’m not sure what to say. It’s a debut album, so hopefully some of the rough patches get smoothed over for future works.

Can You Summarize Who Might Like This Album? – Possibly fans of Bluegrass music.

Are There Any Albums This Reminds You Of? – Not really, it’s got a 90’s country feel to it for some reason in terms of the writing.

Best Song(s)? – “Whole World Round”, “Cedar Creek Pickaway”
Worst (Or Weakest) Song(s)? – “Think About Me”

Grade: D+/C-

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