Before southern country troubadour Boo Ray moved to Music City, he had been making the same trek from Georgia to Nashville for over a decade. Over the years, he passed the same sign for a fireworks stand on Interstate 24 hundreds of times and it came to represent his dreams for the future and the perseverance needed to make it in the notoriously difficult music industry. The sign became a mantra of sorts and, eventually, the name of his new album.
Tennessee Alabama Fireworks (out on Feb. 15), is a stellar collection of southern songwriting and diesel-fueled country-rock. Produced by Noah Shain and recorded at Nashville's Welcome to 1979 studio after two coast to coast tours, the album features an all-star band, including world renowned drummer Steve Forrone (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Eric Clapton).
The album kicks off with "A Tune You Can Whistle," which addresses our ongoing struggle to communicate with one another in a world plagued with distractions and anxieties.
"(Producer Noah Shain) said 'I want a song out of you that addresses, from your perspective as a Southern troubadour, the current sociopolitical mess that we're immersed in. What's your take on that?' And the reason he asked me that is I kind of adhere to an entertainer's discipline. My job I don't feel is to be political. I'm not necessarily trying to show up and be like 'Well, here's the answer. Here's what you all need to do. Get busy.' I consider myself an entertainer in the spirit of Jerry Reed," Ray tells Wide Open Country. "I'm not wagging any fingers. This isn't outside looking in commentary. I'm not just an observer. I don't think I'm necessarily coming up with any answers either, but I'm asking questions."
Ray's nomadic nature, which took him from his homeland of the mountains of North Carolina to Athens, Ga. to Southern California, has had a profound impact on his songwriting and musicianship.
"I discovered myself along the way in the stories of guys who had gone before me. Delbert McClinton hung out in L.A. He was part of the Laurel Canyon scene. So that California country thing, from Dwight Yoakam to the Eagles to Tom Petty to Lucinda Williams, there's a well-beaten path of southern troubadours who went to Southern California -- to Los Angeles -- and found their voices...Maybe they found a new perspective on their voices as southern writers," Ray says.
The North Carolina native says going to the West Coast helped him find his own unique voice.
"For me, I went out there and discovered that I am in fact southern for sure," Ray says, laughing. "I got homesick for sweet tea and grits and it became worth embracing and celebrating for me. Being a southern writer became worth identifying once I got out there and along the way I realized this wasn't an original idea...There's some other people who have done this. So I found solace (and thought) 'Oh hey, I'm on the right path.'"
"Gone Back Down to Georgia" and "20 Questions" find Ray immersed in the country-funk sounds of Jerry Reed and the soulful southern rock Muscle Shoals, Ala. helped put on the map.
Standout track "She Wrote the Song" finds Ray exploring the heartbreaking aftermath of addition.
Boo Ray has taken the long road to success and Tennessee Alabama Fireworks is proof that it paid off. Like a firecracker exploding in the night sky, it's incredible to behold.
For fans of: Jerry Reed, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Delbert McClinton
Boo Ray will play a record release show at Nashville's The 5 Spot on Friday, Feb. 15. For a full list of tour dates, visit here.