Time & Distance - The new Ray Wilson live album reviewed by Alan Hewitt.

Ray Wilson has been a very busy boy over the last few years and none more so than the last twelve months or so which have seen him release two excellent studio albums (see reviews in previous editions) and now this, a double live album which neatly encapsulates both sides of his career thus far.

The first disc references his all too brief time with the final studio incarnation of Genesis and it is here that the revelations (pun intended) are quite astonishing. The album opens with Calling All Stations. Now, I for one still vividly remember the impression this track made on me when I first heard it… I loved it then, and still do now. However, the version that Ray and his band perform here is, to put it bluntly, superior to the Genesis version in every way. It has a dynamism which was lacking from Genesis’ performances of it and it is , if anything a much more complete song here. The same goes for The Dividing Line which features some stunning drumming from Mario Koszel along with some driving bass riffs from Lawrie Macmillan.

Home By the Sea, albeit not quite as dramatic as its predecessors here, still works incredibly well. Ray’s voice suit’s this kind of material and he always manages to generate just the right amount of angst and menace. Kool Lyczek’s keyboard work here is equally impressive, lush, clean and spot on in every away… still sends shivers up and down my spine this one.

For me the highlights of the first disc though, are the mighty triptych of Carpet Crawlers, Entangled and Ripples. Oh, if only Genesis had performed the latter two in 1998! Here we get a good idea of what they would have sounded like with Ray at the helm. Ray did a magnificent job on the former back in ‘98 and here his band acquit themselves equally well with a spine tingling rendition of this classic. But it is the latter pairing that simply blew me away… the wonderful combination of Ray and his brother Steve on acoustic guitars and Ali Ferguson on twelve string along with Kool Lyczek’s keyboards and a simply stunning flute from Marcin Kajper makes this instrumental something to treasure and one which will take your breath away - marvellous stuff and that is before Ray in unison with Steve, Ali and Lawrie Macmillan come in on the vocals. Ripples too, is tastefully executed and once again. Kool should take the kudos for a superlative reading of Mr Banks’s classic.

The rest of the first disc is equally enjoyable mixing a few other Genesis tunes with nods towards the solo careers of Mike, Phil and Peter. In Your Eyes and Another Day In Paradise are equally impressive before the disc concludes with a magnificent version of Mama and an equally enjoyable Congo, never a favourite of mine, but here it works incredibly well.

Then it is on to the solo material proper and anyone who has ever heard any of Ray’s albums or been lucky enough to catch his shows, will tell you he is a superlative song writer and story teller. The album opens with Alone from The Next Best Thing, a melancholy understated performance with some superb playing from the entire band. Propaganda man from the album of the same name is next, an acerbic look at the lies that are told to manipulate public opinion for whatever reason. Don’t be fooled by the stripped down acoustic nature of the song, the lyrics are every bit as potent as any heavy rock song you will ever hear. Indeed, this is the great strength that Ray has, he is a consummate observer and commentator on life and situations as is amply demonstrated elsewhere on this album.

The wonderful Calvin & Hobbes is next, a wonderful exploration of the world as seen through a child’s eyes and the images are all ones which we will be familiar with. Oh if only we could retain that innocence into adulthood - a brilliant song, superbly performed here.

As a resume of Ray’s output since his time with Genesis, you would be hare pressed to do better than this album with superb songs such as the elegiac Old Book On A Shelf and Song For A Friend nestling among older favourites there is simply not a bad track or performance on this album and as far as I am concerned this is the best live album I have heard in many a year. If you get the chance to see Ray perform this wonderful music, them grab the opportunity with both hands, you will not be disappointed and in the meantime, get your hands on Time & Distance and revel in some of the best live performances you will ever hear.

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Ray Wilson : Time & Distance Jaggy Polski . RAY 09.