Alison Ray’s debut, Downside Up is obviously influenced by Melissa Etheridge and Sheryl Crow. Besides the bland production, Ray’s voice is problematic: while it may be charming, it sounds terribly unripe – imagine if Paula Abdul got her hands on Sheryl Crow’s backing tapes.
The best songs on the album are the ones that take advantage of her thin vocals. The album’s first single, “Does the D.J. Know” is a decent, catchy song about a lost love that the singer is constantly reminded of when she hears a song on the radio.
Better is the lovely “What If I,” a pretty song reassuring a lover that she won’t hurt him. The song offers Ray a chance to shine, as she sings clever, hypothetical questions to assuage her boyfriend: “What if I came here like an angel; what if I were your destiny?”
Also enjoyable is “Change Is Coming Soon,” a song revisiting the theme of failed relationships, though this one benefits from some clever imagery (comparing the singer’s bruised psyche with an urban landscape).
The worst songs on Downside Up are cookie cutter adult pop. It’s as if producer, Marc Tanner, used a template to craft the tracks: a moody first verse; a crashing chorus, complete with walls of guitars, strings and whatever other noises he’s managed to fit; a guitar solo that recall early '90s rock ballads; and finally, a return to the wailing chorus. The songs follow this structure, with surprising rigidity, and though the intent is consistency, the result is monotony. The music sounds like competent session work. If Ray wants to succeed, she needs to find herself. Judging from Downside Up, she’s still searching.