Ray Bonneville – At King Electric
Stonefly Records SF 1009
11 songs – 43 minutes
Veteran tunesmith Ray Bonneville delivers a sterling collection of relaxed and downhome originals on this CD. Steeped in blue-eyed soul, they’re a stripped down collection of songs that balance hope and despair as the characters he’s created struggle to carve their paths in a troubled world.
A musical gypsy who doubles on guitar and harp and who’s been based out of Austin for the past decade, Bonneville was born in French-speaking Hull, Quebec, in 1948 and is both a 2012 International Blues Challenge winner in the solo/duo category and a 1999 recipient of a Juno Award, Canada’s equivalent to the Grammy, for his Gust Of Wind album.
He didn’t learn English until age 12, when his family migrated to Boston, where he studied both piano and guitar. A Vietnam veteran with a commercial pilot’s license, he set his eyes on a career in music while still a teen. He spent two decades as a studio musician, living for periods in Colorado, Alaska, Seattle and France, settling in New Orleans for six years before moving to the Lone Star State.
Bonneville plays about 100 gigs around the world each year. And even though you might not be familiar with his name, you’ve probably heard several of his tunes. Ray Wylie Hubbard describes his songs as “gunpowder and opium.” They’re stripped down to the core, but both deep and propulsive. Ray’s post-Katrina ode, “I Am The Big Easy,” was the International Folk Alliance’s song of the year in 2007, and was recently covered by Jennifer Warnes.
The eighth release in Bonneville’s catalog, but the first since Bad Man’s Blood in 2011, this one, as the title infers, was captured at King Electric Recording in Austin. The intimate blues-based Americana arrangements feature Ritchie Lawrence on electric piano and accordion and Andre Bohren on percussion and keyboard with guest appearances by Gurf Morlix on guitar and bass and Stefano Intelisano on organ.
A catchy guitar hook that repeats throughout provides the brief opener for “Waiting On The Night” before Ray’s warm, weathered voice enters the action, yearning for daylight in order to feel whole again after having spent the darkness wondering where his lady has gone. The mood brightens and tempo quickens slightly for syncopated shuffle “Next Card To Fall,” references a tune by the band Shocker and the breakup in the previous song as it compares love to a storm, then a game of cards.
The ballad “Tender Heart” finds Bonneville describes of the arrival of a woman who’s seemingly lost to a bar whose walls are now caked with nicotine residue. She plays the same tune repeatedly on the jukebox as Ray uses the imagery to describe how easy a heart can break. The rock-steady “South Of The Blues” seeks a place of solace after a life of troubles while the funky “It’ll Make A Hole In You” revisits love won and lost from another view. It features brief, but sweet single-note guitar solos.
Like many tunes that preceded it, “Codeine” is a haunting ballad that sings about the evils of addition before the sounds brighten and tempo quickens for “Until Such A Day,” an upbeat love song that looks forward to the time the lady finally makes a commitment. Bonneville’s Big Easy experience comes through loud and strong in “Papachulalay,” which flows slowly, but steadily as it describes the arrival of a street parade and someone who’s “acting like a fool and clinging tightly to something that only can be good for crying.”
The somber, harrowing “The Day They Let Me Out” offers up an apology to a sibling – the only person in the world the singer can trust – for not confiding about having for gone to prison as it requests a ride home on the day he’ll be sprung. The disc concludes with “Forever Gone” – about riding the rails – and the pleasant instrumental, “Riverside Drive.”
Deceptively deep in their simplicity, Bonneville’s songs deliver intimate realities in a style that allows them to speak for themselves. Highly recommended.