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The Other Steve Miller
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Boston band Private Shapes overcomes adversity to create stellar debut EP

Private Shapes, with Charlie Ray pictured center. (Photo: Eric Stoessel)

By now, faithful readers of this blog have heard plenty about Charlie Ray. He’s a long-time friend, collaborator, and even a contributor. Now add featured artist to the list.

For the past year or so, Charlie has been lead vocalist and co-songwriter for Private Shapes, a new-New Wave five-piecer from Boston. Check out the band’s bio for more background info.

According to Mr. Ray, Private Shapes is entirely comprised of members who were found via Craigslist (including a recently added bassist), and if the debut EP is proof of anything, it’s that good things — very good things — can come from inquiring to an online posting. (If only the “Free TV” section worked the same way.) You can stream the EP below.

After listening to the EP almost every afternoon at work for the last month or so (including today), I am increasingly awed by each well-constructed, mid-tempo, 80s-era-synth-driven song. The production is such that every nuance — the ultra-clean guitar riffs, the crisp sound of the percussion, the lush, atmospheric keyboard textures/melodies, and even the occasional vocoder — has its own distinct space, and yet, still sonically feeds the greater whole, as only a studio can provide. (I first learned of this idea from Bob Brown, who, in 2009, recorded me, Charlie and Jimmy Salyer when we were the Magic Square. Our self-titled EP may still be one of my more legitimate musical effort to date.)

When I listen to the EP in its 15-minute, 16-second entirety, I’m transported back to 1984 (three years before I was born), driving a red DeLorean down a neon-lit street at night. I’m also sporting a Jheri curl. There’s only one other album this side of Prince’s Purple Rain or Michael Jackson’s Thriller that takes me to such a retro, gated-reverb-drums kind of place, and that’s Tigercity’s Pretend Not to Love EP (here’s the opening track), which is one of my all-time faves. That’s all to say I enjoy this time warp, and Private Shapes’ EP makes it happen.

Call me biased, but my favorite element to the Private Shapes sound is Charlie’s soulful-as-ever vocals. I’ve worked with Charlie in a number of projects over the years — most notably the Magic Square, but also other projects of (somewhat lesser) note like Wanna?, the Dirty Dirty Dirty Dirty Boys, Sermon, and, most recently, Metal Face — and I’ve always been amazed at how well he can sing. I know that’s not a very musicianly descriptor, but it’s true. He’s like the child of Nina Simone and Jeff Buckley, with Daryl Hall as his ever-present Godfather/mentor.

But what’s most impressive about Charlie’s is that he wasn’t even at full strength while recording. In fact, the EP itself almost didn’t happen because of a freak accident last July — one in which Charlie fell four stories down a vent shaft, breaking his pelvis, fracturing some ribs, and bruising his heart and lungs. He then spent several weeks in the hospital and, upon his release, spent another several months on crutches, making even the most mundane tasks like going to class or making dinner incredibly difficult at times.

It was also around this time when the band recorded the EP. If Charlie was at all hobbled during the production, it doesn’t show in the slightest — just one listen to the soaring final refrain of “Alpha Male Status” proves that much, as does the rest of the extended play. And if this what Private Shapes can do in 15 minutes — with a wounded frontman, no less — I would love to hear them on a full length.

As for Charlie, he’s long since made a full recovery, which means we can continue to expect great things from him, as well as Private Shapes, in the future.

Keep it coming, Bostonian sirs.

If you’re in the Boston area June 16 (that’s this Saturday!!), I strongly encourage you to stop by the band’s official CD release show (with guests Muy Cansado and Dead Cats Dead Rats) at Radio, located on 379 Somerville Avenue in Somerville, Mass. The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are $7. If you’re like me and badly wish you were in Boston but still want to show your support, you can purchase the EP on the group’s Bandcamp page.


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