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Don Ray Band – Live in Nashville
Margdon Music DVD
16 tracks – 84 minutes
The Rutledge is a music venue in Downtown Nashville drawing up to 250 patrons if the band is hot. It’s not renowned for its kitchen but it is for its acoustics and lighting: and since you’re not going to eat your live DVD it proves itself a good place to record one. The Don Ray Band call Tennesse’s self-styled ‘Music City’their home although members have been drawn there from all corners of the USA. In October last year they headed for The Rutledge to capture their stage show which Don describes as –“Music with a Blues Feel that Tells a Country Story” (and if that sounds like a man trying to cover several bases, remember Ray Charles!)
Performers on "Live in Nashville", include Don Ray (Vocals/Percussion), Jonathan Armstrong (Keyboards/Vocals), Donnie Lee Clark (Electric Guitar/Vocals), Curtis Jay (Bass Guitar), and Scott Thompson (Drums). There is a host of special guests , included Shaun Murphy, Curt Ryle, Tim Beattie, Trez Gregory, and Laura Vida. Don and the guys have thoroughly networked the Nashville scene through song-writing collaboration and studio work and had no difficulty in attracting quality musicians to contribute to this project.
Three quarters of this set is composed of songs from their recent CD ‘Lonesome Rider’ with another couple from their acclaimed ‘On Top of the Heap’ debut album.
The pattern in set from the concert’s opening number –‘In Your Eyes’ (Track 1)- with a succinct, cleverly crafted song with a powerful vocal delivery by Don. The vocal line is strongly supplemented by the guitar of Donnie Lee Clark playing a glittery turquoise Telecaster.( I imagine you have to be very confident of your playing to tote that to some of the roadhouse gigs they play!) Despite some tasty piano from Jonathan’s Kurzweil PC 88 it’s Donnie that dominates instrumentally throughout. The opening number establishes, too, that ‘Southern Rock’ is very much the bedrock of the band’s sound and it’s not until ‘Love Is’ (Track 13) that Don declares that the band will –“Blues you one time”.
That number, featuring former Little Feat’ vocalist Shaun Murphy, provides the highlight for ‘dyed-in-the-blues’ fans with her impassioned vocals recalling Etta James’ Chess recordings. More in this reflective vein would have raised the ‘blues-quotient’ of the DVD considerably.
That’s not to say that this DVD isn’t an attractive proposition for blues fans There’s lots to enjoy here with Don’s voice strong throughout and lots of variety provided from guests as with Trez Gregory and Laura Vida’s vocal and visual contributions to the up-tempo ‘Boom Chika Wah-Wah’(Track 5) telling of a country boy being led-astray in the big city –and enjoying it! Guitarist and co-writer Curt Ryle joins the band, too, and throws in a very tasty solo in ‘I Can’t Find My Angel’ (Track 7)
Don later brings onto stage Tim Beattie, blues harpist and co-writer of the song they perform, the atmospheric "Gone Nowhere" (Track 10), Tim plays in the band Smoky Lonesome and lovers of blues harp will certainly want to keep an eye out for them..
Don was originally a drummer and then drummer/vocalist before he stepped out from behind the kit. That was a good move as the combination rarely works (remember Ringo?) but he can’t quite kick the percussion habit completely. Throughout he supplements Scott’s fine drumming with cowbell, electronic drums and a tom-tom kit as if he can’t quite ‘give-up the day job’. He has no need to, though, as his vocals and presence dominates the stage.
Fans of the band will find this DVD a great keepsake and fans of Lynyrd Skynyrd-esque Southern Rock will finds lots to enjoy too . The band is tight, the songs are compact and the sound is clear. Only one thing puzzles me –we hear the audience but never see them. Isn’t that unusual on a live DVD?
Reviewer Michael Ford is a retired school principal living in the North of England. He is a heavily involved volunteer in the organization of Bronte Blues Club (www.bronteblues.com) and writes for and performs in the house-band there. He has played in bands over the years opening for such artistes as Clarence Carter, Howard Tate, Dorothy Moore, Sherman Robertson, Doug MacLeod, Mojo Buford and Larry Garner.