Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Dave Ray – Legacy

Red House Records

After Bob Dylan, the most significant musicians to come out of the folk scene around the University of Minnesota, circa 1960, was the trio of Koerner, Ray & Glover – guitarist-singers “Spider” John Koerner and Dave “Snaker” Ray and harmonica player Tony “Little Sun” Glover. Along with such seminal figures as Dave Van Ronk in New York and Eric Von Schmidt in Cambridge, Koerner, Ray & Glover paved the way for all of the blues revivalists who followed in their footsteps.

The tracks on classic Koerner, Ray & Glover albums like Blues, Rags & Hollers and (Lots More) Blues, Rags & Hollers only occasionally featured all three musicians. Most songs had one or another of the trio performing solo or in duos with one of the others and Ray’s cuts highlighted the sets.

Ray went on to a long career working occasionally with Koerner and Glover – I remember meeting and hearing them at the Winnipeg Folk Festival in the 1980s – as well as in duos with Glover, fronting his own bands, and as a solo artist. Ray, who died of lung cancer in 2002 at age 59, kept on playing until the end.

Legacy is an exhaustive 3-CD set that collects 55 recordings – most of them previously unreleased – made over the course of his 40-year career. We hear him mature from a teenaged guitarist trying to imitate Lead Belly to a fully developed master of both rural and urban blues styles.

The recordings on the first CD cover the years from 1962 to 1987. While early tracks like “Alabama Women” and “Fannin Street” sound imitative, we quickly hear him find his own blues voice and begin to offer more fully developed interpretations of songs like Brownie McGhee’s “Lonesome Road,” with Glover offering more than credible Sonny Terry-style harp, and Blind Blake’s “Fighting That Jug.”

The 21 songs on the second CD were recorded between 1988 and 1994 and are highlighted by Jimmy Reed’s “Take Out Some Insurance,” with Ray on electric guitar, Tommy Johnson’s “Big Road,” on which he plays an electric 12-string, and Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues,” on which he plays acoustic 12-string. All three tracks, and many others on the disc, feature some excellent harp work by Glover.

The 18 songs on the third CD date from 1995 to 2002. By this time, Ray was a fully developed blues artist. His versions of such pieces as Tommy McClennan’s “Shake ‘Em On Down,” Joe Callicott’s “Fare Thee Well,” Blind Blake’s “That Will Never Happen No More,” and even a bluesified version of Bill Monroe’s bluegrass classic “With Body and Soul” are a constant delight. And, again, all of those tracks feature great contributions from Glover on the harmonica.

Legacy is a great reminder of an important, if under-appreciated, artist no longer with us. The 32-page booklet includes photos and an excellent essay and song notes by Glover.

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--Mike Regenstreif

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