Michael Ray won the CW televised musical competition The Next: Fame Is at Your Doorstep in 2012, assisted by the mentorship of Big & Rich's John Rich. Ray didn't deliver a full album for another three years, but that's a sign of how deliberately the Nashville machine can move when they know they have somebody with real potential in their hands. Ray did some work behind the scenes, co-writing Big & Rich's single "Run Away with You" with Rich, but the real energy was channeled to his eponymous debut, produced by Scott Hendricks and released in the summer of 2015. The debut is canny commercial contemporary country, pitched halfway between the big, bright punch of bro country and the sentimental side of Rich's associated artists. Ray is better served by the former than the latter: he can handle a nicely modulated ballad, like "Look Like This," but stumbles on the laundry list of red-state necessities in "Real Men Love Jesus," never letting the calculation seem like anything less than pandering. Pick the tempo up, though, and he's a friendly, personable purveyor of country-pop, whether he's singing a love song ("Kiss You in the Morning") or threatening to burn this mother down ("Livin' It Up," which never gets too wild, no matter the threats). Michael Ray still seems a bit like a personality tailor-made for television -- he's prettier on the album cover than he is on record, where he's merely amiable -- but his debut is an expertly made piece of modern country product that pleases and, if it gets the right break on radio, could even wind up as memorable.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine