Album Review #34: Night Life by Ray Price (1963)

Night Life, Ray Price.jpg

“So me and The Cherokee Cowboys are knockin’ on your record player once more, and we hope that you can just kinda sit back, kick off your shoes, and relax, just a little bit, and listen to our latest album. And if you like it, tell us about it won’t you?” –From “Introduction and Theme”

I like it, Ray. I like it a lot. This record is certainly not the happiest album out there. In fact, it’s incredibly despondent and gloomy, but in a way it’s also strangely calming. The arrangements are sweet and easy-on-the-ears, but the lyrics are depressive and miserable, and it’s this juxtaposition that makes the album so disarming. The record’s sadness catches you off guard, and when it comes to creating an atmosphere and mood, no other country album so far on this list has topped this one. Created as a tribute to lonely barflies everywhere, it’s a potent statement of loneliness that’ll resonate with pretty much anyone.

Ray Price’s vocals are wonderful, and Willie Nelson’s guitar and backup vocals are a treat, but the real star of the show here is Buddy Emmons’ pedal-steel guitar. Creating beautiful, harmonious tones that have now become iconic to the “Nashville Sound,” a subgenre of country in which Price was a trailblazer, it ties every song together quite nicely. For those unfamiliar with the instrument, this video is a highly recommended watch. The fiddle that shows up on several tracks is a welcome addition to the band’s sound, and Floyd Cramer’s piano is, despite being subtle and easily missable, a very nice compliment to the rest of the instruments. The band’s overall style is spot-on, creating a genre-defining sound with the pedal-steel guitar and fiddle, and this only serves to amplify the emotions on display in this record. The interesting thing is that the majority of the album’s tracks are in major, and still manage to emanate an almost tangible sense of sadness and lamentation through Ray Price’s singing and lyrics alone. Not all sad songs have to be in minor: quite the opposite, in fact, as often songs in a major key can be the most gut-wrenching.

Ray Price digitalspydotcom

Ray Price at the microphone with his acoustic guitar. Image source: digitalspy.com

The album opens with a nice, leisurely introduction (quoted above), before launching into the title track, one of Ray Price’s most popular songs, despite it originally being a Willie Nelson song. He just so happens to sing backup vocals on the rest of the record though, so it’s cool. As with many of the album’s other tracks, the star of this one is that good ol’ pedal-steel guitar. Providing a soothing, yet mournful riff that really exemplifies Nelson’s lonely and down-in-the-dumps lyrics, it takes the song from quality country track to unforgettable hit. “Lonely Street,” the next track, keeps up the sadness, adding backup vocals from Willie Nelson. Some other great songs include “The Wild Side of Life,” “The Twenty-Fourth Hour” and “Pride,” which each bring something new to the table in terms of pure country-style angst.

Every track here works together to create one big country concept album, the ultimate expression of loneliness and gloom. Ray Price wasn’t the first country artist to fully embrace manly tears, but you could argue he did it the best. And hey, if you’re not in the mood for a real downer of an album, just don’t pay attention to the lyrics and you’ve got yourself a relaxing and calm half-hour of music that’ll sooth your nerves in a jiffy. No matter which angle you look at it from, this is a genre-defining album for the “Nashville Sound” of country that would be endlessly emulated for decades to come, and is most definitely deserving of a listen. And if you like it, tell them about it, won’t you?

Favorite Tracks: “Night Life,” “Lonely Street,” “The Twenty-Fourth Hour,” “The Wild Side of Life,” “Pride”

Next Up: With the Beatles by The Beatles (1963)

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