Angel Air Records (label)
13 January 2014 (released)
27 February 2014
Now celebrating his fifth decade in music – having played with Mott, British Lions, and The Yardbirds to name but a few – Ray Majors has another cause for celebration, namely his survival of Stage 3 throat cancer.
Following the most difficult and toughest period of his life… with countless rounds of chemo- and radiotherapy behind him, Ray felt inspired to record this exquisite album. Sherlock Holmes aficionados amongst Music-News readers need no reminding of the inspiration for the album’s title.
As Ray explains, he was always fascinated by the literary world of Sherlock Holmes and E. A. Poe, and in particular by their recreational injections of cocaine. Having dabbled in the very same “recreational” experiments, albeit in his younger years, Ray had left the follies of his youth way behind him… only to rediscover the numbing qualities of painkillers during his cancer treatment.
During his long period of treatment, recovery and reflection, Ray channelled thoughts and emotion into the only musical genre possible: the blues! Not only breathing, but FEELING it – in the truest meaning of the word. The fifteen tracks see Ray working some magic with a very special guitar given to him by a friend: a Pete Turner - hand crafted in Madagascan Rosewood and Cuban Mahogany. Coupled through Ray’s Lazy J 20 watt amplifier, the result is a dynamic and unique sound perfectly suited to create that bluesy vibe. Although Ray’s voice has changed as a consequence of his cancer (three thirds of his tongue got removed) his distinctive guitar play remains the same.
Fans lucky enough to get tickets could see him play live last year when he performed together with The Yardbirds during the band’s 50th Anniversary show in Twickenham.
Opener I’m Alive speaks volumes as far as the title goes and bursts with wonderfully dirty hooks and a lively groove, although it is quintessentially a tale of regret (Ray reveals his throat cancer was the result of forty years of smoking).
Fire On The Mountain offers the sedate anti-dote, a slow burning yet passionate number which transports you straight to the realms of the Mississippi Delta. When Ray sings, “I pay my tax / I paid my dues / Got nothin’ left to lose / The critters gonna get you” we believe him in an instant. By the way, this song is a musical reflection on the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.
14 Hours comes on blues-ier still (including some mock-lament howling), and that’s little wonder given the fact that the number was inspired (if that’s the right word to use here) after Ray’s 14-hour ordeal under the surgeon’s knife!
It’s the aptly titled Users And Loozers which electrifies, courtesy of seriously mean riffs and a generous amount of penetrating percussion.
The melodic Dressed In Black is stripped to bare emotions and chords, and works all the better for it. Its lyrics are almost painful to listen to, with Ray singing of not wishing to be laid out in black and wishing to be here with the living and loved ones instead.
After the dreamy and acoustic instrumental Stay Home Tonight, and the sonically up-side down/inside out Riptide/Landslide, we come to the album’s title track. Brimming with guitar-driven pain and hallucinations, Ray delivers the haunting lyrics “Many a night stuck in the twilight zone / Many a night just sat there on my own / Those heroic adventures of Sherlock Holmes / Gimme the needle and I dropped like a stone / 7% Solution don’t get me very far / Eight to the bar…”
All Been Done – a Southern-folk induced slow affair, seems to reflect upon one of Ray’s lesser moments during his long treatment… it’s a song about having spent enough time doing this and that, hence not mind dying.
I for one am grateful he’s still with us, so that Ray can delight his fans with many more exciting compositions… like Scarlet Ribbons, another dreamy instrumental (performed with a Pete Turner Resonator) that goes under the skin.
Closing number In The Now sees Ray’s wife Sandy Dillon doing her debut as guest vocalist. That said, Sandy plays keyboards on all numbers except ‘The 7% Solution’. A very intimate love song interspersed with intense guitar solos, Ray touchingly sings about coming back from the basement of despair.
The album is a testimony to what willpower can achieve. Here’s to beating the big C… and the big C!