Produced by:Dominic Miller and Walter Wray Recorded at:Elephant Studios, World Fair Studios, London
Walter Wray spent most of the 1970s and ‘80s pursuing the rock-star life. Born in 1959 in Portsmouth, England, he grew up with the Beatles and the Stones and came of age in the era of T. Rex and David Bowie. Like a lot of other British lads of his generation, he taught himself to play guitar, hooked up with a few mates and started playing in bands. One of these hell-raising outfits, The Junk, made a little noise in the 1980s, putting a single, “The World Doesn’t Turn” on the UK indie charts. Another group called King Swamp made a splash across the pond in America, with Wray as leather-clad frontman and Dominic Miller on lead guitar.
But as Wray once said: “It’s tough to search for your soul while hordes of screaming fans are trying to tear your pants off.” So, the young Englishman regrouped in the early 1990’s, got himself a six-string acoustic and hit the road solo as a singer-songwriter. Ultimately, this is where he found his musical voice, as evidenced by his solo debut, Steel Strings.
You can hear Wray’s rock ‘n’ roll pedigree throughout Steel Strings. It is a melody rich collection of singer-songwriter pop that bristles with a restless musical energy and soul-searching lyrical insight. It’s the sort of blend you hear in the music of artists like Peter Gabriel, R.E.M. and the Talking Heads, where simplicity becomes a symphony. Perhaps the best example here is “Can’t Call It Love/A Hand to Hold,” a one-two pairing of love songs that bounce with the spirit of an old-school, doo-wop stroll and grab the imagination with lyrical images of dolphins in the Thames and ghost-town hotel barbershops.
Wray’s lyrical imagination is also in full bloom in “Heaven On Our Side,” an open-road shout-out to love inspired by the blue and gold mask of ancient Egypt’s famous boy king Tutankhamun. In the rollicking “Forget It Sal,” he turns a withering eye on a friend stuck in the past, reliving rock-star dreams and brilliant, half-baked schemes. You can feel the muck of a southern swamp in “Bred in the Bone,” a bluesy embrace of wickedness and its consequences.
Steel Strings was co-produced by Wray’s old King Swamp pal Dominic Miller, who made a name for himself in the 1990s as a premier guitarist for Sting. The album also features Miller on guitar, leading a strong backing band that includes bassist Steve Greetham, drummers Barry Kinder and Andy Barron, mandolinist Dermot O’Connor and keyboardist Charles Olins.
They bring the songs to life in arrangements that put the focus on Wray’s message. Steel Strings is a soul-searching record, rich in songs that explore love, pain, hope and regret. It’s a snapshot of opportunities won and lost. It’s a good thing for us that Wray finally got that rock-star stuff out of his system and let his own voice be heard.
- Michael Norman