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Ray Bonneville

ROLL IT DOWN • Ray Bonneville

In case you haven't heard, this cat is one of the baddest country blues artists walking the planet today. He's more than that, really. His style incorporates a number of worlds. New Orleans, country blues, pop music (by that I mean Dire Straits, Eric Clapton, and especially JJ Cale) and Country and gospel music.

Brother Ray is effective both in the ensemble element and as a solo performer, he's knockin em out all over North America and Europe. He's a dual citizen, and tours widely in Canada, where he won a Juno (their Grammy) for his 2000 release Gust of Wind. An infectious rolling groove develops in the way he combines his super funky thumb/index attack on the electric guitar, his deep harmonica chops, and the amplified footboard, and it rocks the room. His vocals are smoky, with a trace of sweetness, streetwise and well traveled. He's known, sometimes, for playing an old Gibson J-50 acoustic, but for me the essential Ray is on the thin hollow body electrics of Epiphone or Gibson, he makes those skinny guitars jump like few I've ever seen or heard.

His songwriting seems to improve every record, and become more revelatory. The artist describes his music as more visceral than intellectual, yet lyrically he plays it close to the vest. He's complicated, and has Canadian and American ways intermingled. His playing and his singing are always top shelf, but this new record has more great sounding songs than any other I've heard so far. "Under the Bridge," "Slow Matin," the sheer groove of "Tiptoe Spider," this is the one.

Along with the artist, Roll It Down was co-produced with two Canadians, Rob Heaney and the ubiquitous Colin Linden. It started at Fast Forward Studio in Montreal with Ray, and Geoff Arsenault on percussion, moved on to Deep Field Studio in Nashville with Colin Linden producing (we sure like the records he makes, see reviews of Stephen Fearing and Susan Werner) and some hand picked Nashville trackers. Jonell Mosser sang some background vocals, and drummer Bryan Owings from Buddy Miller's band, the legendary Joey Spampinato from NRBQ on bass, the mighty Richard Bell on B3, and Ray's talented longtime compadre Brad Hayes on guitar, all contributed to the band songs. Ray's a distinctive and superior guitarist, and he cut all the slide tracks and the signature funky rhythm grooves, and all the guitars on the title track. Joel Zifkin cameos on violin on two tracks.

Ray Bonneville's records are always good, but this one's the best.  •  FG

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