Raymond McCullough,
The Great China Bike Ride
(Precious Oil, 2004)

Raymond McCullough is an Irish singer-songwriter who has been penning music for more than three decades. In 1999, Raymond toured parts of the People's Republic of China on bicycle for a charity event. His experience touched him such that he released an EP on the Precious Oil Productions label (which Raymond set up in 2003).

The Great China Bike Ride contains six tracks and is just over 30 minutes in length. Two of these tracks are actually different renditions of the same song, "Ballad of Beijing." The radio version is about 4 and 1/2 minutes while the full 11-verse mix lasts over 8 minutes. The music is heavy on percussion. Having traveled to the PRoC back in '91, I related to many of the lyrics and consequently felt a connection with this song right away. Unfortunately, I wonder if folks who have not had a similar experience would appreciate all 11 verses. Not to mention, the chorus does get a little repetitive.

I must say that I felt a little cheated when I found out that not only was this a short CD, but that there were tracks that had nothing to do with China. "Smoke Goes Up" focuses totally on Ireland both in lyrical content and melody. While this is certainly not a bad ballad, what is it doing on this CD?

Most listeners will note that singing is not the focus of Raymond's talents. He has a decent voice -- flat at times, often struggling to reach or maintain a certain note, but better than a lot of people. Raymond's talents shine more on the instruments he plays: acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, whistle and bodhran. My favorite track on the EP is the instrumental "Ar tir seo aguinne."

Other musicians who contributed on The Great China Bike Ride include Dave McCullough (electric guitar, drums and MIDI instruments), Connaire McCullough (vocals), Julie Anne Crawford (vocals, keyboard and fiddle) and Davy Hamilton (Irish flute and whistles).

The Great China Bike Ride is not a bad EP. The vocals could be a little more polished and the included tracks could all focus on China for my money. I can see myself listening to this CD on occasion, but it definitely is not one of the top CDs I have reviewed this year.

by Wil Owen
6 January 2007

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