Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ray Bonneville CD Release Party

On Saturday I went to see Ray Bonneville with Amy and Ryan and Jamie.  Bonneville has a new album out called Easy Gone.  It's really good, and Bonneville tends to be away from Austin and on the road a lot, so I was determined to see him perform live at this Strange Brew show.  I posted about the show on Facebook, and some longtime family friends showed up (Tom, Marlene, Judy, and Don) to enjoy it with us.  It was great to see them!

I've posted about Ray Bonneville before, but I think it bears repeating that in my opinion he's one of the best acts in Austin right now.  I don't say this lightly.  I know there are some really exceptional songwriters and performers in this town.
Bonneville hits the trifecta, though.  He's a really good guitar player, a captivating singer, and a great songwriter.
His guitar playing, typically accompanied by rhythmic foot tapping amplified through an electric footboard, is unusual and really interesting.  It sort of reminds me of an old blues style, strumming and plucking with the the right thumb while fingerpicking and rolling the other notes.  He employs this technique while playing all kinds of different styles of music, though.  He hammers his left hand fingers on and off and bends strings.  He frequently makes his guitar fill more space than you would expect out of a single instrument with minimal effects.
His voice is sort of low- sometimes gravelly and sometimes smooth.  On the warmer songs it can sound comforting and soothing.  On the darker songs it can convey a sort of menace and threat.  And sometimes it just sounds world weary, tired, and a little mournful.  Bonneville is good at that sort of thing.
And I really like his songwriting.  I've seen quite a few songwriters over the last couple of years, and many of them these days seem to feel bound to writing about only their own, direct, personal experiences.  I guess this is meant to legitimize their music, granting it a sense of sincerity and authenticity.  Just as often, though, it sort of ends up making me feel like the performer might be the sort of person who's just a little overly dramatic.  More importantly, I feel that narrowing the songwriter's perspective to strictly personal subject matter limits the available topics of the songs and narrows the worldview of the artist.  I don't need to hear a million songs about the romantic break ups of various musicians or their struggles with their personal demons (usually drugs or alcohol).  Sometimes it's more interesting to hear about an artist's take on larger, or at least different, events that are going on in the world.
Bonneville is good at that.  He's written songs about murderers and ne'er-do-wells, about New Orleans and its struggle with recovery, about love gone horribly wrong, and about varous people just struggling to get through hard times.  I like the fact that Bonneville is willing to compose stories and write songs that reflect his personal perspective without limiting his subject matter to himself.

Ray Bonneville was joined by Gurf Morlix on bass and Richie Lawrence on keyboard.  They were both really good.  Richie Lawrence played a sort of Wurlitzer piano, and he had some really cool piano parts and solos.  Such a cool instrument, and Lawrence played it very well.  Gurf Morlix did a solid job of holding down the bass lines, and added some nice backing vocals that lent some songs a sort of haunted, country vibe.

It was a really good show.  Whenever I hear Bonneville I'm always surprised that he's not playing at ACL Live or other much larger venues.  It's sort of selfish on my part, but, of course, part of is sort of glad.  I mean, I want success for the guy, but it's really cool to hear someone with so much obvious talent play to a smaller venue.  I hope he makes it really big, but maybe not until I get to hear him in these smaller clubs a couple more times... 

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