Classic Americana Albums: The Lemonheads “It’s A Shame About Ray”

(Atlantic, 1992)

Hard to believe that it’s been thirty years since this doozie was first unleashed. Evan Dando has been a long time lover of Gram Parsons, Big Star and others that we’d consider ‘classic’ americana artists. Accordingly, his own mix of West Coast singer-songwriter/East Coast indie/country pain and heartache made him a minor pop star in the early 1990s, but his laid-back vibe and ‘recreational habits’ got the better of his fame.

Nonetheless, ‘Ray’ is probably the best Lemonheads album. It’s the sound of a band overflowing with guitar pop bangers, from the title track, all downbeat and inexplicably sad, to the upbeat ‘Confetti’ and the breakneck (and arguably best track of the lot) ‘Alison’s Starting To Happen’. ‘My Drug Buddy’, is sloooow and wholly a fair representation of the man’s life – meet the girl, go buy the gear, get stoned and play the music. A blend of acoustic strumming and Dando’s fuzzed up Gibson SG are the firearms used across all of the tracks, with hints of Hammond B3 organ and lap steel blended in sparingly.

The Lemonheads, as a band, has always essentially been Dando plus a cast of ‘others’. On this record he’s accompanied on drums by ex ‘love interest’ Juliana Hatfield. She’s probably not the best drummer to ever walk the earth, but her rudimentary style adds to the slightly ramshackle, thrown together charm. Her backing vocals, best highlighted on ‘Rudderless’ are on point nonetheless.

Dando continues to release solo and Lemonheads records, intermittently, to this day. The ‘big follow up to ‘Ray’ , ‘Come On Feel The Lemonheads’, had some wonderful tunes (highlight perhaps the beautiful melody and bold statement of ‘Big Gay Heart’), but was overproduced, as a counterpoint to this under-produced gem. He also started hanging out with Rick James (see ‘Rick James Style’ on ‘Come On Feel..’), and that was never good news for anyone’s health.

The Lemonheads had a moderate hit single, immediately following the release of ‘Ray’, with a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Mrs Robinson’, which was tacked on  to later releases of this album. It fits in nicely, and sounds (like most of the other tracks) as if it was recorded in one take, with the band kicking back and having the most fun ever. The original closing track is/was a cover of ‘Frank Mills’ from the musical ‘Hair’ Had the record company left it so, it would have been just fine – Lemonheads cover versions have always been quite beautiful. Dando’s soft, lazy vocals pick out a melody with grace and ease. He was last spotted (in 2021) playing for the staff and customers at a Walgreen’s (on Cape Cod), as a thank you,  after he’d lost his wallet nearby and the drug store kept it safe for him.

About Mark Nenadic 106 Articles
Quite likes music. Doesn't really like people. From The North. Exiled in The Midlands due to radical views on whippets/flat caps. Beards and plaid shirts belong on Willie Nelson. Everybody else should smarten up a bit ..

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