Ray Bonneville,
Rough Luck
(Prime CD, 2000)

Ray Bonneville is not a young man. And sometimes age helps to avoid taking the wrong musical paths. Despite more than three decades of touring, Rough Luck is only Bonneville's fourth album. Deciding that "less is sometimes more," he went into the studio to record a live solo album album. The idea was to recreate the experience of a small venue.

On 13 tracks, the Canadian accompanies himself on several electric and acoustic guitars, a National steel guitar, the harmonica and the footboard.

Bonneville shows his love for the country blues, the slow and easygoing sort. The rock influences of the earlier releases are moved right to the back, as everything about this record whispers "laid back." The former bush pilot's vocals are somewhat reminiscent of a J.J. Cale or a Mark Knopfler. Listen to "Sylvie's Got A New Man" and you can watch your toes go berserk, as they just have to move with the groove of a song with an incredibly funky guitar. Impeccable guitar style, great sense of rhythm, no wonder that the album scores on all points.

The man is in no need of a band, he sounds like one himself. The lyrics deal with, no surprise there, people having the blues, whether it's the small blues as in "Rough Luck," where the upbeat melody seem to betray the slightly darker words ("I took a room at the Heartwreck Inn / wasn't to sure whether I'd come out again") or whether it's the big blues as in "Down On The Ground." It's the story of a bleak and depressive day, a day that will pass eventually: "I hear the mail come through the slot / I don't care much what I got / Let the machine answer the phone / I got nothin to say to anyone I know."

This is a spellbinding record that will justly enhance Bonneville's reputation as a first-rate country blueser. A record like a thunderstorm, just much more quiet.

[ by Michael Gasser ]
Rambles: 8 July 2001

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