Female singer/songwriters became visible long before the '90s (Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell and Janis Ian were stars before Alanis Morissette was even born), but they became especially plentiful during the Bill Clinton years. There were many of them back in the '60s and '70s, but their numbers really soared through the roof in the '90s and 2000s. And today's female singer/songwriters run the gamut, ranging from angry (Ani DiFranco) to artsy and eccentric (Tori Amos) to waifish (Jewel). On her first full-length album, Downside Up, Alison Ray favors the more commercial and radio-friendly side of the singer/songwriter spectrum. This 39-minute disc (which was produced by Marc Tanner, with mixing by Chris Lord-Alge) has some of Melissa Etheridge and Sheryl Crow's rootsiness, but minus the huskiness of Etheridge's voice and without any of the cryptic humor that Crow is great at providing -- and Downside Up's abundance of Top 40 pop gloss brings to mind names like Shania Twain and Kelly Clarkson. Ray isn't as daring as some of the women in the singer/songwriter world, but while Downside Up may not push the envelope a great deal, there is no getting around the fact that Ray's radio-friendly material (some of which Tanner co-wrote with the Memphis native turned Los Angeles resident) is generally infectious, hooky and likable. Downside Up has its melancholy moments -- most notably, "DLS (Dirty Little Secret)" and "There's Always Tomorrow." But ultimately, this is an optimistic album -- not naïve, but optimistic -- and even when Ray expresses some angst, she doesn't spend a lot of time wallowing in it. Downside Up won't go down in history as the most challenging adult alternative release of 2006, but it's an enjoyable, satisfying example of the singer/songwriter world's Top 40-minded side.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson