I’m always amazed by prodigies. When I have had the opportunity to rub shoulders with young people who possess talents far beyond their years, I feel as if I am in the presence of something otherworldly. There’s no real explanation why these Young Guns should be able to do the things they do, but they do it anyway.
There’s a scene in the movie Searching For Bobby Fisher, about a young chess prodigy who is taking the world by storm and is dismissed by an overworked school teacher. The young man’s father, played by Joe Mantegna tells the teacher, “He's better at this than I've ever been at anything in my life. He's better at this than you'll ever be, at anything. My son has a gift. He has a gift, and when you acknowledge that, then maybe we will have something to talk about.”
That’s how I feel about some of the prodigies I have come to know. I’m often amazed by just how they elevate whatever it is that they are a part of, into an art. It’s not that they are good at doing what it is they do, they manage to get inside of it and transform it into something brand new. We might not recognize it when they are through, but they damn well change it to fit their world instead of the other way around.
This long-winded explanation is due to the fact that today’s review concerns a young man named Ray Goren. Presently Mr. Goren is 16 years-old and is putting out some amazing album, including his most recent album Free. While it is not a blues album in the traditional sense of the word, Goren does pull a lot of his musical expressions from blues, but by the time he runs them through his kaleidoscope of ideas, the music takes on new shapes and forms.
The album starts off with an electronic metronome sound for the song, Manners, and the music that follows is hard to describe. To me, it comes off as electronic trance with a strong rhythmic dance beat. It’s obvious that Goren is exploring a variety of expressions on this album and for those of us who are usually described as “over the hill” are going to have to go some to keep up.
He follows with the title track, Free, which coincidentally is the shortest song on the album, clocking in at under three minutes. It has a lush vocal opening over a nice keyboard riff and it becomes more apparent that Goren has some strong vocal chops. It quickly changes direction and the music takes on a manic energy while he tries to ride his vocals over the top. The way the music mixes and varies its approach is the equivalent of a collage with bits and pieces put together to create a new artwork.
Next up is Don’t Know Better, with its soulful vocal overtones layered over simple notes that give way to more electronic approach. These are not your grandfather’s blues, it’s doubtful that he’s going to play a twelve-bar riff and I sincerely doubt that someone will be blowing a harp on the break. This is a young person’s brave new world. I can appreciate his journey though, without being the audience that this was intended to attract.
Next up is Emergency with more good vocals inserted over some throwback synthesizer riffs. For those of us who remember the way that many of the New Wave bands explored their use back in the day, this will sound somewhat familiar. Goren may be young, but his voice and talent would have found a way to break out during just about any era.
He follows with Back To Me, which is my personal favorite song on the album. His voice is velvet smooth and there’s a sense of danger in the music. In my opinion it’s also the best produced number and one that I think has the best chance for a breakout. Of course, everyone will react differently, but there is enormous potential in this song.
Goren closes the album with Love Gone Wrong. With its simple piano opening and lovely vocals, the song is the most traditional of tracks. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some pyrotechnics, but they are no more than you might find on any number of albums.
I often preach that it’s up to artists in any form or genre to challenge the status quo and to redefine what it is they do. Ray Goren is doing just that with Free. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he is finding his own voice and experimenting with what he wants to do.
At 16, most of us were not interested in redefining art. If we were typical teenagers, we probably were more concerned with getting our driver’s license and establishing a little independence from our parents. Maybe we were busy trying to fit in with our peers, and hoping to get an invite to that big party that everyone’s talking about.
Prodigies are on a different plane. Their heads may be wrapped in the clouds and it might be a while before the rest of us catch up to them.
In the meantime, check out his albums and see what kind of a path he blazes, and maybe – just maybe take a chance on what might be the future.