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Monday, Nov. 21, 2011

Ray Bonneville

Bad Man's Blood (Red House Records)

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Ray Bonneville has been places. The Canada-born, Austin-based singer-songwriter has laid his hat in Montreal, New Orleans, Boston and Paris, to name a few, and on Bad Man's Blood he wears his nomadic ways like a badge. It's a fully realized, mature blend of roots rock 'n' blues, steeped in long dusty roads and hard-won perspective. Stories of rambling, drifting, leaving and flying (oh yeah, Bonneville is a pilot, too) adorn his songs like the stickers on a raconteur's suitcase.

And what songs they are: straight swamp-groove on “Mississippi,” Acadia mixing with the Mississippi Delta on the half-French “Blonde of Mine,” barroom jump blues on “Ray's Jump,” adult pop (with none of the James Taylor connotations) on “Funny 'bout Love.” Throughout, the guitar is sparse and tasty, the foot stomps and slight beats perfectly lean, and the production so laid-back as to be imperceptible (though it's “Americana” enough to make T-Bone Burnett jealous).

But mostly it's Bonneville's gruff, black-pepper-seasoned voice and uncanny ability to carve perfect, simple hooks into blues rockers: In a tone reeking of Dylan, he rhymes “good times we had” with “good times, not the bad” in the refrain, and makes it feel like pure musical poetry. It's not, but…

The album opens with the line, “Papa said goodbye through the glass on the prison phone,” but by the end it's all about the soft yearning found in “Darlin' (Put Your Suitcase Down).” This badass/tender combination is the same vibe you might find with a favorite grandpa late at night—with stories of treachery and roving to make you glad he went all those miles, so you can revel in them.


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