Juno Award-winning guitarist/songwriter Ray Bonneville plays a free show at the Echo Sunday
By Carl Kozlowski 08/22/2013
Ray Bonneville may be a late bloomer in some ways, but that hasn’t slowed him down. The Juno Award-winning songwriter, who played blues and rock in bars for twenty-some years before he finally started writing his own material in the early 1990s, spends a few months of the year touring North America and Europe. He makes a pair of rare Southland appearances this weekend.
His extensive travels inform his seductive folk-blues grooves as well as the pungent sense of place that characterizes much of his music. Bonneville has collected his mail all over the map — Montreal, Boston, Colorado, Alaska, Seattle, Arkansas, New Orleans, Texas — and his sensitivity to community vibes and environment bleeds through his lyrics. His songs are like suggestive snapshots made along the roadside, with quiet disturbances in the corner of the frame leaving listeners to wonder what happens after the last guitar chord stops ringing. Listening to gothic tales like the fateful title track and “Cross and Flowers” from his excellent 2011 album “Bad Man’s Blood,” it comes as no surprise to learn that Cormac McCarthy and Flannery O’Connor are among his favorite storytellers:
“Cross and flowers by the side of the road/ In the hour of long shadows/ Faded name, hard to read/ Lost in among the weeds/ I see dice rolling out of a hand unknown/ I believe they’re loaded long before they’re thrown.”
Bonneville lived primarily in Quebec City and spoke French until he was about 12, when his family relocated to Boston. There he got his hands on a guitar and started bashing out chords; it only took a couple of proper lessons for him to decide that theory wasn’t his thing and he’d rather jam on the Rolling Stones and the Zombies with his high school buddies.
After serving in the Marines, he found the blues — and lasting inspiration in the grit and honesty of players like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters, Tony Joe White and Howlin’ Wolf, as well as country legend Hank Williams. He won the Best Blues Album Juno Award (the Canadian Grammy) for his third release, 1999’s “Gust of Wind,” but it wasn’t until 2003’s acclaimed “Roll It Down” that his profile started rising here in the States.
Now based in Austin, the gravely-voiced Bonneville makes a rare foray into LA this weekend, playing McCabe’s in Santa Monica Saturday night with fellow blues-influenced troubadour Ernest Troost, and the Echo on Sunday. Fans of sly, soulful playing a la the late J.J. Cale would do well to check him out.
The Grand Ole Echo presents Ray Bonneville in a lineup that also includes Dan Janisch, Ben Reddell and Sarah Stanley at the Echo, 1822 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park, 5:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. For more information, call (213) 413-8200. raybonneville.com