Frank Ray, ‘Streetlights’: Song You Should Know

Mainstream Nashville’s attempts to engage with a Spanish-speaking audience have been hit and miss, despite the obvious similarities between country music and Tejano or Norteño. Freddy Fender is probably the best known example – his “Before the next tear drops”Reached number one in 1975 – but other artists, like Rick Trevino and Johnny Rodriguez, also enjoyed periods of success on the radio charts.

Frank Ray is the latest artist to make connections between these worlds, and “Streetlights,” the debut album by former New Mexico-raised law enforcement officer, “Streetlights”. Where other contemporary country singers like to scream the music they play (Waylon, Willie, sometimes T-Pain if you’re in Florida Georgia Line), Ray directs. “She was moving on the ground / Like she’s floating on water,” he sings, the bottom of her voice carrying the heaviest twang – her upper range shows more in common with Timberlake’s soulful pop and Bieber, for what it’s value.

Fortunately, this encounter doesn’t end with a moonlit ride on a dirt road to the edge of a stream where the legs hang from a tailgate. Instead, they’ll be looking for some fresh air. “I want to go for a walk in the lampposts / Get away from all this noise,” he sings, before repeating the phrase in Spanish. “Caminando, caminando / En la luz de la calle”, he adds.

As a production, “Streetlights” is very aware of what has happened in the last two decades of Latin pop, without having to hit our heads with it. The beat makes a subtle nod to the ubiquitous reggaeton beat, but also has the looser feel of live players, while flamenco-style guitars weave in and out of the verses with a dramatic twist. There’s even a break in the middle of the song that feels more like the melancholy middle of Love’s “Alone Again Or” than a random mariachi interlude.

But it’s Ray himself who sells the song. He’s comfortable in both worlds and exudes the kind of sensuality that Enrique Iglesias could have had he decided to pursue a career in country music. It’s also a relief to hear a country artist engage with the Spanish speaking world in a way that feels fresh and without resorting to cheap (or offensive) gadgets. With his effortless cross-cultural embrace, Frank Ray and his compelling “Streetlights” grab attention.

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