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by Michael Nesmith
Videoranch, Monterey, CA, 2006
CD, 100-059
Sales, $16.95
Distributor’s website: http://www.videoranch.com.

Reviewed by Michael R. (Mike) Mosher
Saginaw Valley State University


Despite a 40-year musical career, every review of Michael Nesmith will begin with mention of his role in The Monkees, a television comedy about the adventures of a rock band, patterned after the Beatles' antics in the movies, A Hard Day's Night and Help. Towards the end of its run, the assembled group of photogenic young actors had developed into a credible band, largely under the direction of talented Mr. Nesmith, the most serious musician among them. Nesmith went on to write, sing, and produce numerous solo projects. His attentiveness to Bob Rafelson's direction of the Monkees’ sitcom and movie made him appreciate and work skillfully the medium of the comedic music video during the early MTV era, with his Elephant Parts.

Rays has the feel of a late-1960s concept album, an ambitious genre that took off after the success of the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and might even be said to include the Monkees’ Head, soundtrack to their full-length movie. Each such album presented a range of musical genres loosely in the service of a story, or at least the shadow of one. The Asylum Choir projects by Los Angeles session musicians Leon Russell and Marc Benno were among them, and session men ably support Nesmith's vision here. Perhaps the recent completion and touring performances of Brian Wilson's three-decade-stuck Smile concept album also inspired Rays.

Rays ostensibly tells of a guy driving in his car in heavy traffic, looking for food, then finding some sort of peace in natural beauty. A comic by Drew Friedman, depicting Nesmith during each decade since the '60s, reinforces this narrative, appearing on the cover and on the lyrics sheet. Listenable and enjoyable, Rays is not a big and innovative splash, but not bad either. Some of its songs are showy funk instrumentals, showcasing Chester Thompson's B3 organ. "There It Is" suggests the more spiritual Jamaican pop, like Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross" or something by the Clarendonians. The final song "Follows the Heart" is built on a pleasant 1930s-sounding melody, the kind Paul McCartney appreciates; think of the Beatles' "Good Night". Nesmith croons reassuringly its words of acceptance and peaceful appreciation. Yet ultimately he goops the song up with distracting overproduction, 50-pound slabs of synths and excessive echo. If to be swallowed up in production is a metaphor for the early Monkees’ success that, in too many minds, still defines Michael Nesmith, at the wheel on this excursion out he has only himself to blame.



Updated 1st May 2006

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