Ray Price

Beauty Is… The Final Sessions

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Ray Price had sort of a split personality as a country artist, balancing his career between the hard honky tonk shuffles full of twin fiddles he so energetically recorded in his earlier years and orchestrated, string-laden, pop-aimed ballads like "Make the World Go Away" that came later and earned him the reputation as "the Tony Bennett of Country." He did both styles with commercial success, becoming a subtle innovator in Nashville in his own way, quick to pick up on the new, young, and lyrically progressive country songwriters like Kris Kristofferson when they appeared on the scene. Price's ability to adapt his sound, his warm, comfortable singing and phrasing, and his ear for a good song (particularly if it was a gently bittersweet love ballad) gave his long career a kind of sustained elegance. This set contains Price's last recording sessions. He had already been struggling with serious health issues for a couple of years when he approached longtime friend and producer Fred Foster early in 2013 with the idea of recording one last album. Price was 87 at the time and well aware that this would be his last album, and he chose a dozen pop and country ballads to track. The album was finished in October of 2013, and Price passed less than two months later in December, making it a true swan song. Price's voice shows the wear and tear of the years, and no doubt his ill health, but it was still a powerfully vernacular vehicle, comfortable-sounding and full of his trademark graceful phrasing and flow. In all honesty, nothing here eclipses earlier pop-country masterpieces like "Make the World Go Away," but as a last statement, Beauty Is... has the poignant feel of a last act, a warm, sweet, and haunting summation of all that went before. The opener, "Beauty Lies in the Eyes of the Beholder," sets the tone, with a light but still lush string arrangement backing Price's dignified and almost breathless vocal. Songs like "No More Songs to Sing," "Beautiful Dreamer," and "I Wish I Was 18 Again" all take on added depth and nuance for being sung at the very end of Price's life, making this a sweet, gentle coda and a beautifully fragile endnote to an iconic legacy.

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