14 songs – 64 minutes
Prayin’ For The Rain is the second album by Southern Californian blues-roots-rock combo, Dry River. The band’s first album, Lost In The World, featured the duo of singer/guitarist, Oliver Althoen, and harmonica player and occasional vocalist, Dave Forrest, playing and singing together live into a single microphone. Their sophomore effort sees the addition of the rhythm section of Joel Helin (bass) and Ruben Ordiano (drums) on half the album, which is electric blues-rock. The other half of the album is acoustic roots-rock. The overall effect however is a highly enjoyable release.
The band describes themselves as “basically happy people… but they like sad songs” and that is a pretty fair representation of the songs of desperation and redemption that populate Prayin’ For The Rain. The album opens with the acoustic Delta blues of “Lift This Stone”, in which Althoen’s flat-picked guitar follows the vocal melody while Forrest’s harmonica adds ghostly overtones in the background. Althoen sings in a clear, unaffected voice that adds poignancy to the desperate lyric. This is immediately followed by the heavy electric blues shuffle of “Dry River Blues” with its neat repeated guitar motif just before the V chord.
The band moves impressively and seamlessly from the straight-out rock of “Lost In The World” and “Divided For Love” to the country-rock of “Breakfast” and “Lovesick Blues” and the acoustic ballads of “Who Am I” and “Shine Your Light On Me”. The gentle finger-picked guitar and faint harmonica of “Hildegard” are reminiscent of the early-70s folk-rock of (acoustic) Led Zeppelin or Roy Harper, while “Free Man” has hints of “Seagull”-era Bad Company.
Althoen wrote nine of the 11 songs on Prayin’ For The Rain himself, co-writing “Shine Your Light On Me” with Sinda Althoen, while Dave Forrest contributes the acoustic instrumental blues “Making Biscuits” (with lovely slide guitar from Althoen). The musical imagination of all the players, but Althoen in particular, is consistently impressive, for example in the usual picking pattern in “Lay Down And Die”, or in his ability to layer a number of guitars on a track without ever over-playing, while Forrest’s subtle backing contributions are as whip-smart as his solos. The band also brings in a number of guest musicians to contribute additional flavours to a limited number of songs, including Paula Gabriel on backing vocals, Jeremy Hatch on keyboards and Satch Purcell on tablas. Lyrically, Althoen leans towards the darker side of life, with one or two jolting turns of phrase (viz. the second verse of “Dry River Blues”).
Prayin’ For The Rain was recorded and produced by Althoen at his home studio and mastered by Rob Elfaizy at Stage One Studios and together they have captured impressively warm performances throughout.
This album is a roots-rock album with a definite blues influence, primarily through Forrest’s blues-infused harp playing. If your tastes lean towards classic blues-rock, you will find a lot to enjoy here.