A little Lockdown present from Lauren Ray in the shape of 5 songs from her second album "Woman In The Arena" stripped back to their very barest of bones. This is just Lauren and her piano, pretty much how you might have seen her at many a gig throughout the year, proving how simplicity can become sheer beauty,
The EP opens with "I Decided On You", an honest and frank open love letter set to music.
"Never before have I been sure of someone"
The studio version is a little faster and perhaps is brighter and more joyful but this version feels more personal and direct The studio version strangely sounds almost generic in comparison which is an odd thing to observe given they are exactly the same words - its just the way the music either highlights or obscures the message.
The introduction to "Irreplaceable" is solemn and almost at odds with Lauren's speedy vocals. Lyrically it follows on from the previous song while simultaneously delivering a rebuke to an ex who has a somewhat dubious take on the word "faithful". It therefore has downbeat verses which contrast with the joyful chorus that celebrates finding someone who considers Lauren "Irreplaceable".
There is a similarly subdued piano in the opening moments of "It Was Worth It" and for good reason, it is another piece of stand out writing where the lyrics paint such a picture in the opening verse of a funeral where
"The widow cries "He was my one""
it leads Lauren to ponder on love as a concept, and possibly echoing a line from from Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" concludes "maybe I don't know love at all".
Those two thoughts then feed the rest of the song, the search to find a love so strong that she would one day feel those same emotions with Lauren pleading
"I want to find somebody whose worthy of falling apart for I want to find somebody who's worthy of feeling it all for"
and later wanting to know that
"It was worth it letting myself get vulnerable",
The "Woman In The Arena" album opens with "Moment", driven by prominent percussion, so in this version that oomph has to come from Lauren's playing and singing alone and there is no doubting the effort being put in, when she sings
"I know love cos you showed me love" it feel like she could almost explode!!
The EP closes with "What We Came Here For". the stand out track for us on "Woman In The Arena", displaying a level of writing that is simply sublime. The actual concerns of the song, the illicit rendezvous need little analysis in terms of what is going on but you have to admire the classy way in how it is done. The information contained within the lyrics allows the people of the song to virtually materialise in front of you and it is done in such a sensual way, that is down to the sheer quality of the prose.
"You touch my hand but I let it linger, i felt the imprint from the ring on your finger
We will just say that we were intoxicated, but I know that you know it was calculated"
Laurens playing is suitably dramatic and her singing throughout is exemplary, contrast the flirty doubt of the opening verse with the "Taste of regret" vocal of the later verse that make this such a quality song.
This is definitely an EP worth checking out whether it is just to hear quality singer songwriting or to find out the essence behind how the songs on "Woman In The Arena" originated or indeed if it is a gateway that leads into Lauren's wider repertoire where plenty more gems await.
Lauren Ray live is available from https://www.laurenraymusic.com/store