Kenny "Blue" Ray
Tone King 1060
In All of My Life
This bearded blues boy has it all: phrasing, chops, musical ideas that stretch forever and tone. Tone coming at you out of both speakers with mad-dog intensity. Tone like you're tied to a railroad track with a freight-train bearing down on you at a hundred miles an hour. Tone like you thought left for good when the two Alberts and Stevie Ray left us wanting much, much more. And maybe he is a little derivative -- who in the blues isn't nowadays? -- but at least he's adapted from the best.
Knowing his limitations, Ray doesn't sing, but with 40 years of Stratocaster guitar slinging behind him, his axe does all the storytelling for him. Ray's been a member of Little Charlie and the Nightcats in the early days, backed up Marcia Ball for five years, recorded an album with "Fingers" Taylor & Anson Funderburgh for the Lightning/Appaloosa label and held the guitar chair for the late William Clarke's first record, Heavy Hittin'; that's besides sharing stages with Percy Mayfield, Lowell Fulson, Smokey Wilson and Big Mama Thornton. In the sleeve pictures the goateed Ray might look like a pro wrestler in an extremely bad mood, but on his guitars he shows a light instrumental touch when necessary and stinging, string-bending power when called for.
Last year's self-produced Git It! is a typical example of Ray's fine songwriting chops and supremely confident abilities on Stratocaster. Playing lead, rhythm and slide guitar, Ray cuts through 14 all-instrumental tracks, equally adept at adding some Burrell, a bit of B.B. and Albert King while mixing things up with shuffles, jump, rockin' blues and New Orleans second-line strut. Sax man Rock Hendricks is a stand-out, as is B.B. King's old band-mate, Duke Jethro, on Hammond B-3. Ray may be from Menlo Park, California, but his heart is in the swaggering strut and ferocious bite of the Texas blues. This is probably the best of his indies.
His brand-new European record label, JSP, is hoping to cash in on the massive talents of this 47-year old guitar monster, and In All of My Life is helped considerably by the marvelous vocal talents of R&B & soul veteran, Jackie Payne guesting on three tracks and the blue-eyed soul-drenched Jimmie Morello on three others. Another strong plus is the righteous organ work of Austin DeLeon and drummer Kevin Coggins.
In All of My Life is more balanced than most of Ray's instrumental efforts, and he plays supportive rhythm and sympathetic lead to his fellow players. There's a lot to listen to -- not one track is longer than five minutes -- which makes it an excellent introduction to Ray's expanding archive.
-- Joseph Jordan