Prime Cuts: Senses, This Thing of Ours, An Affair to Remember (with Martina McBride)
The finality of death is as thinly veiled as the song titles. Songs such as "No More Songs to Sing," "Among My Souvenirs," and an Affair to Remember" show that Ray Price was quite aware that this album "Beauty Is... " is going to cap off his more 6 decade long career. In fact, after Price was diagnosed as having pancreatic cancer, he was determined to record one last album for his wife. Drawing his producer of yore out of his retirement, Fred Foster (Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton & Willie Nelson) was the man of Price's choice in helming his collection of swan songs. When we are at the throes of death's grasp, we can hardly give a rip of sales figures or chart positions. Likewise, Price has ditched all notions of commercial viability in favor of a record that captures his feelings for his wife and the sounds he loved. Thus, "Beauty Is..." is by no means a conveyor belt production made for radio. Rather, it brims with nostalgia, warmth and wisdom that function as Price's parting testament.
In the 50s when Price first was first brought to the public's attention, he had patented what is then called the "Ray Price Shuffle." His way with a 4/4 fiddle drenched honky tonk shuffle was what brought a new movement to country music. Spearheaded by songs such as "Crazy Arms,""I've Got a New Heartache" and "My Shoes Keep Coming Back To You," Price certainly was the price of country radio. However, never one to be stymied in one type of sound, the pioneering spirit of Price gets a new lease of life in the late 60s. He began experimenting with what is later known as the Nashville sound. Augmenting country ballads with lush orchestration and backing vocals, Price has merged the chasm between pop and country music. Within such a nascent genre, Price topped the charts with his take of classics such as "Danny Boy" and "For the Good Times." Price continues his voyage on the charts with its storms and stills until the 80s. In 2008 Price's career enjoyed a resurgence when he won a Grammy Award with Willie Nelson for their collaborative effort: "Lost Highway."
"Beauty Is..." finds Price returning back to his lush sounds where he places his sonorous vocals in a nest of beautifully crafted strings calling to mind those classic sounds of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Vince Gill joins Price on aphoristic "Beauty Lies in the Eyes of the Beholder." Though age and illness have eroded Price's ability to reach his higher registers, his way with a love song still excels 90% of today's male country singers. Martina McBride is a mellifluous power voice is the perfect foil for Price's softer slurs bringing out the shades of contrast on the classic "An Affair to Remember." Yet, the album's pride of place is in Price's solo ballads. "This Thing of Ours," for instance, is as cozy and warm as the bright morning sun bringing in a glowing hope that romance never dies with age.
Songs such as "No More Song to Sing" and "Senses" do hint on Price's awareness that he was nearing mortality's edge. In hindsight, listening to how Price still professes his love for his wife in such an undying fashion certainly wells up tears in our eyes. Such are testimonies that tenacious love does exist in this world of fragmented commitments. The only song that didn't quite work is "Beautiful Dreamer" which has a pretty dated backing making it sound too archaic for people who have not grown up in the 50s and 60s. Completed just two months before his death, "Beauty Is..." is hauntingly nostalgic, emotional, heartfelt and a great way for us to bid farewell to an iconic singer in music.