About CS Gray

CS Gray’s previous band, Martin’s Folly, was said to be “like a scruffier version of the Band” by Rolling Stone. Over the course of three albums, the band – shepherded in the studio by Eric Roscoe Ambel and co-led by Chris Gray (aka CS Gray) and pianist/keyboardist Jim Duffy – honed a pitch-perfect approach to American roots rock.

Of their second album, SPIN said “whomever complains rock is dead should be force-fed the new sophomore release from Martin’s Folly.” Billboard wrote that “Petty and the Stones clearly seep from this act’s pores,” and The Boston Herald heard “the spirit of everything from Jerry Garcia’s and Neil Young’s wounded voices to Tom Petty’s restless guitar to the Band’s waltzing organ.” This is a band that celebrated, and built on, the great rock and roll of the past.

Martin’s Folly went on hiatus in 2006 (though they’re planning to regroup for new recordings later this year). In the meantime, Chris decided to make an album – Shoot Out the Star – on his own. He said, “I wanted to take my time and be responsible for all the decisions and see what I could do.”

For Shoot Out the Star, Chris assembled a new band, augmented by the Martin’s Folly rhythm section on some songs, as well as members of NYC jamband originators God Street Wine. He also brought in Tim Hatfield (Keith Richards, Steve Earle, Death Cab for Cutie) to co-produce and engineer. Tim’s expertise was crucial to the sound of the record. According to Chris, “Tim has such a great ear for guitars, and that’s real important because this record’s all about guitars.”

Chris and Tim (who had also engineered the last two Martin’s Folly records) decided to approach recording Shoot Out the Star in a different way. “The Martin’s Folly recordings were mostly live,” Chris said. “On this one I wanted to go slow, to think about tonality and go for a lush sound – though there are a couple tracks that are straight one-take recordings.”

But then trouble struck. Production was wrapped up, including mastering and manufacturing, but there was a problem that couldn’t be ignored any longer. Bone deterioration in both of Chris’s wrists had been making playing the guitar painful for years – and by 2007 it had gotten to the point where there was no other option but surgery. Since then he has undergone two surgeries and has rehabilitated both wrists. And he’s now releasing Shoot Out the Star in September 2011 in celebration.

The title of the album came from a trip Chris took to Coney Island with his wife on a cold New Year’s Day. “We were walking along the abandoned Astroland,” he said, “and we stood in front of this ‘Shoot out the Star’ booth. I took a picture of it and it occurred to me later that that was the name of the record.” He continued, “It’s a romantic title: it’s fun and ethereal, but it’s gritty and evocative too. What could be more ‘Americana’ than a carnival game?”

Those moods – romantic, fun, ethereal – found their way into the album. “For the drums, I had in mind some of the later Tom Petty records,” Chris said. “Thinking about guitars, I spent time listening to some classic albums including some Led Zeppelin. I focused on isolating the guitar tracks, and I was intrigued about how some of them might have sounded strange on their own. But in the mix, they sounded beautiful and perfect.”

Some of the songs were written especially for the album, but others had been kicking around for a while. About the third track, “Bad Vibe,” Chris said, “I tried to record that song for all three of the Martin’s Folly albums – it actually predates Martin’s Folly. I used to play it with a band called Load. It’s probably the first song I ever wrote. But each time I tried it, I couldn’t capture how I was hearing it in my head. The song kept haunting me, so I kept trying. This time it stuck.”

Another song that finally settled in this time is album closer “Would You Ask of Me.” Chris said, “I’ve tried multiple recordings with a full band. While it worked great live in a kind of sea chantey way, the recorded version needed to be more stark. So on Shoot Out the Star I did it solo: guitar, harmonica and vocal. I think it worked. It’s a real solitary song, so to have a stripped-down sound matches the isolation in the words.”

“I guess you could say my approach is romantic,” Chris said. “And most things that are romantic have some melancholy. Somebody always dies in those classic English and Irish folk songs. They’re dark. There’s always a ‘dark.'”

That may be true, but the fact that Shoot Out the Star is seeing release after a few challenging years shows that there’s some “light” you can count on too.

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