Larry Carlin
Larry Carlin


Canadian Mix

Ray Bonneville calls both Montreal and Arkansas home

By Matt Kramer
Pacific Sun
December 9, 2005

Next Thursday delivers a debut performance at the Sweetwater Saloon for road-tested North American Ray Bonneville. The singer-songwriter applies that continental moniker to himself partially because he sports dual citizenship in our country and in Canada. Bonneville has established home bases in Montreal and Arkansas, and tours extensively both north and south of the Great Lakes. He also hits the road regularly throughout Europe, where he's headed not long after he comes to visit us.

Musically, Bonneville's steeped about equally in folk and blues, colored by exposure to musical outlaws and outsiders such as Steve Earle and Guy Clark, while also influenced by revered bluesmen such as Muddy Waters and Bukka White. Accordingly, Bonneville is fluent in both of those styles, merging them (and more) into his own unique sound. His rhythmic and percussive means of expression on electric guitar keeps appropriate pace with focused, photographic, slice-of-life lyrics that can stick in my head for days. On his handful of recordings and at his live performances, Bonneville accents his strummed stories by playing harmonica. He's one of few such practitioners that develop this coupling so smoothly that it often sounds like more than one musician making all that happen simultaneously.

And Bonneville's got the knack for arranging music. Even when his sounds are augmented with drums, fiddle, mandolin, and piano, Bonneville knows how to leave space between notes and avoid sonic clutter. His talents have been recognized by the music industry, in Canada at least. His third disc, Gust of Wind (Stony Plain/Warner) won the Juno Award in 1999, and his next effort, Rough Luck (Allegro, 2000), was nominated the following year.

For his most recent recording, Roll It Down (Stony Plain/Warner, 2003) Bonneville wrote every tune. So he's a prolific songwriter and a well practiced though unpretentious performer whose first love is playing music. He hits our more prestigious local venues like the Mystic Theater and now the Sweetwater, but he's also performing at Caffe Trieste's newest outpost in Berkeley this time around. The guy just wants to play, and there are a lot of folks like me willing to listen.

Joining Bonneville at the Sweetwater are The Frontmen, a duo comprised of musicians from Sonoma and Marin counties. Rory McNamara (Santa Rosa) and Stevie Coyle (Larkspur) began performing together in the Bay Area as The Frontmen in the early 1990s. They'd sat in with different bands, knowing each other for 15 years, before offering up their mix of Irish, folk, and country music. You might recognize McNamara as a photographer; his work has been featured within this very publication. And Coyle's been fooling around with The Waybacks for quite a while fiddler Doug Adamz has been joining the duo for recent shows, and rumor has it that Larry Carlin will hold down the doghouse at this particular gig.

I'd also like to issue an early heads up for Los Lobos at the Fillmore on Friday and Saturday, December 19-20. For the first time in this genre-bending band's history, it will recreate live, in entirety, its masterful 1992 recording, Kiko. Supporting them Friday is Alejandro Escovedo; Saturday night features up-and-coming roots rockers Reckless Kelly. Los Lobos usually sell the venue out, so if you're interested, jump on tickets as soon as possible. P.S. You can purchase them at the Fillmore without any "convenience charge."




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