Ray Duncan is a composer, musician and indie artist from Nashville, Tennessee. As a composer she’s created scores for several Shakespearean festivals and for various theater companies. As an artist, Duncan has released two EPs, a live album, and several singles with Ranchers For Peace, and her 2016 debut EP This Road has been followed up by her sophomore EP Break My Heart. Duncan asserts that this collection of songs “is a stark and disarmingly honest look at self sabotage and all that it will manifest if left unchecked; it’s a journey into the center of the wounded psyche and then back out again. Overall this project was created as part of an effort towards making that sad, shadowy self stand in the light where it can no longer cause any harm.”
Technically, these recordings “were intended to preserve the immediacy of live performance, capturing the vulnerability that is often lost in an industry that is obsessed with churning out music that is over-produced and inhumanly without flaw. There was very little editing to the performances on the EP, and no added elements save a few twittering birds. Three tracks were recorded at The Facility in Nashville, with the two others recorded at the artist’s home. Mastering was by Charles Duncan (Ray’s father) at O.V. Sonic in Ojai, California.
“Time” sets the intimate tone of the album right away, and indeed the birds start singing before the singer does! Duncan has a both a young-sounding and lived-in voice, with some of the interesting grit of Phoebe Snow, the lyricism of Angel Olsen and the authenticity of Gillian Welch. The lyrics express both sadness and acceptance of time: “They say that time don't go both ways / it tears the youth from my lover's face / but I hear tell of another place / of beauty and eternal grace.” Duncan’s acoustic picking is gentle and melodic without being showy.
“Thrown Away” could be about relentless suitors at a bar, or the relentless demands of an old, tired city. Here’s an especially lovely guitar melody with modest but powerful vocals. “Don't keep me here, I wanna go / and what you're gonna say, I already know / So just save your breath for the next in line / and don't worry your head, I'm gonna be fine.” It’s almost like she’s using that gentle Southern blowoff: “Well, Bless Your Heart!” In “Grateful” Duncan pitches her voice slightly higher without losing any of her control or charm. This is a touching, uplifting tune though you’re not sure quite until the end where she’s heading. “I’m broken from being on the run / from what these ghosts will try to do / but something's changed / ‘cause now I'm grateful that they chased me here to you.”
“Between Your Eyes” is another song of questioning, first pondering God and Jesus but ultimately landing between the eyes of a friend or lover. There’s a touch of grit in Duncan’s vocals here that I found thrilling. “Break My Heart” ends the set, and was chosen to be the title track because “…it ties together a lot of the themes and concepts that the other songs on the collection are exploring: feeling jaded and resigned to a fate that isn't really yours.” This song is indeed a mirror image and consolidation of all the others, and every bit as beautiful and compelling.
Though Duncan’s not exactly a “new artist,” she’s certainly new to me, and I’m the better for having explored this sweet and moving EP.
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