Reviews of Ray Mason's 2005 album Old School


(Done reading, and want to go back? Go back to the Music page on raymason.com)


Baby Sue Review:
Haydenville, Massachusetts' Ray Mason makes consistently superb music...and has been doing so without stop since the 1980s. Considering how many folks this man has played with and what a large catalog of music he has produced, one would think that...by now...his name would be a household word. But at least thus far, this is not the case. And yet Mason continues to write and record stunning albums, releasing them on his own independent Captivating Music label. Old School is dedicated to the memory of Raymond D. Mason (Ray's father), who unfortunately passed away in 2004. Ray credits producer Jim Weeks for his major contributions to this project. You'd think after all these years writing and recording songs that Mason would have burned out or gotten bitter...but fortunately neither is the case. This man's tunes still have the fresh, spontaneous feel of someone who has just picked up a guitar. Eleven classic tunes here, including "Old School," "Crazy," "Question to Answer," and "Pretty Bye-Bye." Ray Mason is one of the most genuine and sincere artists on earth. Highly recommended.

Kevin O'Hare : Newhouse News Service ARTS Section The Republican (formerly the Union News)
Ray Mason releases albums frequently, both on his own and with his alt-country combo the Lonesome Brothers. Despite its name, "Old School" offers fresh sounds for Mason, who breaks out beyond the "Silvertone pop" he's known for and introduces some intriguing instrumentation. Jon Weeks' flute work on "Crazy" and "Make the Wind" is superb, and producer Jim Weeks doubles on various instruments including keyboards, dobro, mandolin, violin and cello. With Mason turning in several strong songs like the soulful "Shape Clear," the sparse and eerie "I've Seen a Ghost" and the standout title track, it's a winning combination from start to finish.

A Letter From Our Very Own Frank Marsh!!!
As Ringo sings: "Oh My My!!" This disc should be titled "Mona Lisa" or "Starry Night" as in masterpiece!!! You guys have worked a gem with your talents and for my ears! This disc reminds me of a delicious cake with ingredients of classic Ray Mason, "Ram" & "McCartney II" with the frosting of "Smiley Smile"& with a Twist O'Weeks. I'm a wee bit jealous but extremely proud of what you both accomplished with this sonic candy! My heartfelt Congrats!!

By JAY N. MILLER/For The Patriot Ledger
Central Massachusetts pop genius Ray Mason is one of those irritating characters who is far too prolific for the rest of us. In between playing more than 100 shows a year, Mason seems to release an album of perfect pop every six months or so, either under his own name or with his band The Lonesome Brothers.

There oughta be a law against someone being this good, this consistently, this often.

Mason's latest collection of 11 tunes retains all his quirky charm, in a batch of mostly three-minutes-or-less rock songs that say a lot with a little. Mason is a master of simplicity who uses melody and unforgettable hooks to craft some amazing stuff.

Consider the title cut here, a ditty about running into an old flame many years later, with its flawless evocation of old times revisited: "I'm still that fool, she's still cool." Elsewhere in the tune, Mason notes that his old love is "from the old school, stoned and kinda spacey, though we locked eyes before, she still can't place me." Like the best of Mason, it's funny and touching at the same time, and much of his humor is directed at his own foibles."Never Run Out" is a rock tune about someone with too much stuff, who isn't sure if they are a collector or just a pack rat. The quirkiest tune here - and that's a tough call on a Mason CD - is "Question to Answer," a stop-time portrait of an incessant yakker who's "short, with a brain that's not getting taller." Toes will be tapping throughout "The Lure," which uses a Jim Weeks piano center to examine freedom and cars. "Shape Clear" might be the Mason nugget here that the songwriters and poets will be wishing they wrote. Melding a kind of 1950s rock sound with Big Pink-era echoes of The Band, this song portrays a tongue-tied lover trying to communicate. With lines like "Darling, you deserve so much better than what I got" how does this woman resist?

John Shelton Ivany Top 21/August 7th, 2005 to August 13th - Issue: #237
This was certainly a pleasant surprise. Mason's new solo album runs somewhere in-between Presidents of the United States of America, Johnny Cash, and They Might Be Giants. Yet even that does not seem to come close to what the man is doing. His voice is shy, almost joking sounding, yet his lyrics seem completely serious. Each track is different from the next. He jumps from big band swing to ambient keyboards+vocals to something almost country. Mason certainly knows how to do it all. But then you look at his catalogue. He's released 5 cds with his band The Lonesome Brothers, played on everything to Cheri Knight to Lloyd Cole's records, and been with projects released on John Zorn's label Tzadik. The man is certainly versatile in everything he does. The album is dedicated to his father, Raymond Mason. Also co-writing on this is Jim Weeks, his trusted keyboard player, which seems to drive the band. The production flows every song together, and definitely turns this into a golden album.

VH1.com / Jim Macnie
" She's from the old school / stoned and kind of spacey", sings the middle-aged pop zealot with the knack for making baubles that immediately stick in your brain. An indie dude from Western Massachusetts, Mason has released a string of endearing little discs over the last decade. His way with song templates from the 60s is always impressive, and whether he's messing with a samba or paraphrasing the Beatles, he's a charmer.

Music-Hills.com / Rating: 4 stars
This disc is Ray's tribute to his father, so there's a sentimental attachment for him on this one. As usual, he's released a great disc. With his unique sound that incorporates a little of everything ( rock / pop / blues / folk) and a lot of fun. There's no pigeonhole genre for this underground legend. The best way to describe his music is party rock. Not only is he an underrated musician, but he's more than likely the nicest guy in the business. Way to go Ray, and keep up the great work!

Cosmik Debris / reviewed by DJ Johnson
If this is a new one on you, rest assured it's only because you never looked in the right places. Ray Mason has been out there doing it since 1966, opening more shows for more big names than you can probably reel off without looking through the cd bins to reload.

Armed with a highly likeable voice and a knack for turning simple honesty into a perfect hook, Mason spent the 1980s travelling one of the most indie routes imaginable, releasing five albums, but only on cassette. You may or may not remember that the cassette-only scene was all the rage in the 80s, and Mason was right out there on the edge. Since then he's founded his own label ( Captivating Music) and appeared on plenty of cds, both on his own and as a sideman to others.

Old School is a highly enjoyable album, dedicated to Mason's father, who passed away in 2004. Mason rightly credits Jim Weeks for playing a huge role in making the album happen, and its really Weeks' album as much as it is Mason's. He plays guitars, keyboards, drums, mandolin, cello, violin, harmonica, contributes vocals and did a fine job as producer. His brother, Jon, turns in a pair of beautiful performances on flute, as well. Between Mason's penchant for compelling, honest pop tunes and Weeks' ability to add anything any song needs, Old School couldn't help but become one of the finest releases of the year. And that it is.

Epinions.com / Overall rating: 5 stars
It is often said that some of the best music produced is done so because at the very moment as the song writer is attempting to find the perfect unison between the music and the lyrics, thoughts of a life event all of a sudden come rushing to the mind and work in ways that no mortal man could ever define. Often times we hear songs that are dedicated to love, a birth of a child, or a memory of a time come and gone. However, the brilliance of this album is more likely than not inspired, whether directly or very subliminally, by the passing of the songwriter's father, Raymond D. Mason ( 1920 - 2004).

Ray Mason is well known for being an amazing songwriter and a genuine musician. Often times, when going shopping for a new car or a new refrigerator or something completely materialistic, the cliche, " They don't make them like that antmore" is oft batted around during sales negotiations. However, never have truer words been spoken when the music of Ray Mason is compared to a lot of the, well garbage, that some try to play off as music today.

What Ray Mason does well is stick to the basics, while embracing the need for a different sound every now and again. He focuses on the music as a whole, meaning that the lrics cannot stand alone from the instrumentation and vice versa. Rather, he seeks to always to be able to find that perfect uniting sound that makes his work not just good, but great.

The track from which the album gets its name, Old School, finds itself right at the forefront of the album as the first track. The direct and foot tapping rock mixed with a sort of folk flare is heard immediately. A nice rhythmic beat is matched nicely to a slow and reminiscing sound of Mason's voice.

Crazy has a very unique feel to it, almost like a melodic sitcom to the ears. While the ultimate outcome is meant to conjure thoughts of that reclusive crazy guy down the street, the song has a way to make you feel as though you are finding your way into someone's mind. " They're all driving me crazy, right out of my mind", is heard throughout the track. Rather than cacophonous sounds meant to rile images of anger and foam in the corner of your mouth craziness, this song is more tame and subdued.

I've Seen A Ghost carries a very melodramatic tone throughout the short song. A very intentional repeating, droning sound in the background of the music is meant to give the impression of creepiness. Mason's voice is very soft and low in this track, as if he is telling to someone that he had indeed just seen a ghost, but wants to keep it on the down ow just to insure the ghost does not return.

Pretty Bye-Bye has an awesome rock and roll sound to it, without emphasis being dropped to Mason's voice and lyrics at times and then back to a rock music instrumental sound when the chorus fades out. An appropriate way to close out the album, Mason saved one of the albums best songs for the very end of the album.

Ray Mason is known throughout the Western Massachusetts area as one of the premier musicians in the Pioneer Valley. Lately, Mason is finding more and more respect outside of his comfort zone there. foe instance, Stuff @ Night in Boston just wrote about Ray Mason and he also was having a show at the Lizard Lounge in the Boston area. With more and more people listening to this album, it is a guarantee that Ray Mason will be getting more and more gigs around the region and his amazing music will start showing up in more and more CD players everywhere.

The Rock and Roll Report / review by Gerard Girard
One always likes to commend a great musician who has brought us through the years with a generous amount of wonderful music. My friend Ray always brings a number of different styles to the table whether it be blues, folk, country, pop or rock. This musician, whether solo or with his group has shown each time that he will not rest on his laurels and like a good bottle of French wine he just seems to get better with age.

John Shelton Ivany Top 21
This was certainly a pleasant surprise. Mason's new solo album runs somewhere in-between Presidents of the United States of America, Johnny Cash, and They Might Be Giants. Yet even that does not seem to come close to what the man is doing. His voice is shy, almost joking sounding, yet his lyrics seem completely serious. Each track is different from the next. He jumps from big band swing to ambient keyboards + vocals to something almost country. Mason certainly knows how to do it all.

But then you look at his catalogue. He's released 5 cds with The Lonesome Brothers, played on everything from Cheri Knight to Lloyd Cole's records, and been with projects released on John Zorn's label Tzadik. The man is certainly versatile in everything he does. The album is dedicated to his father, Raymond Mason. Also co-writing on this is Jim Weeks, his trusted ketboard player, which seems to drive the band. The production flows every song together, and definitely turns this into a golden album.

New England Music Scrapbook News #119 / Alan Lewis
Ray Mason, one very important guy in Western New England's popular music community, has a new album, Old School ( CD, Captivating Music CM-9159, 2005). It's a fine one and a bit of a departure, adding a note of irony to the album's title. Jim Weeks did a wonderful job with the production, adding just the right touch time and time again. We picked Mason's brain a bit about what he was looking for, going into this project, and we hope to get back to Old School soon, including both his comments and our own observations. Though I could hardly call this album typical, nonetheless if you've heard little or none of Mason's music I'd still say this is the place to start. If, on the other hand, you're already a Ray Mason fan, wait until youi hear Old School. I think you're going to love it.

Back in the mid-1960s, Brian Wilson's first significant, extended step outside the Beach Boys' hit-song formula was part of the second side of the Beach Boys' Today album. He did he same much more extensively and famously with Pet Sounds. After Pet Sounds, many of the better rock actstried hard to tie their albums together in creative new ways. Rubber Soul by the Beatles is the main example and one of my own favorite albums of any sort ever ( the american version, that is). LPs by other bands led more directly into the psychedelic era. If Old School looks back to any time in particular, I'd say it's the post-Pet Sounds period of rock history.

Phil McNamara / Wormtown.org
Ray could be considered the original old school guy of Western Mass. Of course Ray's version of old school isn't classic metal or stripped down punk. It's that catchy pre-FM radio pop built on good songs and simple production. Always having something interesting to say, " Old School" fits the bill with 11 songs that won't change your life, but will get you singing along. Musically The Band comes to mind. Ray gives you something to think about, and when the record's done he leaves you happy - or at least happier than you were when you put the record on. Pretty damn good.

Jonathan Perry / Stuff @ Night
He ain't young, hip or pretty. All veteran singer-songwriter-bandleader Ray Mason has going for him are a quarter-century's worth of original songs, a lived-in voice with which to sing them, and a permanent place on Massachusetts' winding, ancient-veined musical map. He's also got a damn good band that can shift gears on a dime, from a waltz to a bossa nova as well as play bread-and-butter party starters like honky-tonk country and rustic roots-rock.

Believe it or not, after nearly 40 years of steady performing - in clubs, coffeehouses, American Legions, you name it - and scads of albums, Mason's about to release his first official solo CD, Old School ( out on his own Captivating music label). It's an apt title that speaks to Mason's frame of reference - though that doesn't mean he can't appreciate Sonic Youth and the Flaming Lips - when it comes to the music he's made with his own Ray Mason Band; the Lonesome Brothers; or his first band, the Gladiators, which he joined in 1966 at the age of 16.

There's no box big enough to hold the contents of Mason's amazingly inclusive taste and insatiable musical appetite, and you can hear a lifetime of listening in the warm, free-roaming grooves of Old School.

Vintage Guitar Magazine
Ray Mason's music, while being full of wonderful chord changes, quiet vocals, and lyrics with discreet meaning, is also quirky and hard to define. On this disc, the title cut is a light pop tune ( in the best way) that displays that quirkiness with lines like, " Now it's 30 years and three hours later..." The track " Question to Answer" further defines his style; it starts with light off-beat guitar chords against funky drums. I'd descibe the mood as "nervous". In fact, much of Ray's music could be described in that way. And that's not a bad thing. The guitar solo has to be heard to be believed. It is, for lack of a better word, very "free", but very fun and interesting, not annoying. " The Lure" is a country stomper with great off-the-wall changes. " Pretty Bye-Bye" mixes chimey guitars with nice drums and piano to create an exquisite sound. " Coat Check" is the kind of pop at which Ray really excals. It's got an amazing hook, crunchy rhythm guitars, and fine slide throughout. Mason has been making music for a long time, mostly for the fun of it, I think. His records show it. Check him out if you love classic rock and pop that takes a left turn herevb and there.

John Heidt