Ray Bonneville - Goin' by Feel

Ray Bonneville
Goin' by Feel

(Red House)

First Appeared in The Music Box, January 2008, Volume 15, #1

Written by John Metzger

Tue January 22, 2008, 07:20 AM CST


Some artists develop a style that is so groundbreaking and unique that it becomes singularly identifiable as their own. Most performers, however, simply must be content with amalgamating their influences into something that works best for them, even if it never achieves complete transcendence. Ray Bonneville, thus far, has fallen into the latter camp. Yet, over the course of six albums, which have been spread across 14 years, he has become something of a master at expertly using his own compositions to explore the various permutations of J.J. Cale’s canon. Bonneville’s latest endeavor Goin’ by Feel is a further refinement of the ideas that he presented on its predecessor Roll It Down. Although his initial momentum slips considerably during the collection’s latter half, the outing still contains some of his best work to date.

The first seven tracks on Goin’ by Feel all unfold slowly but effortlessly as Bonneville allows the sun-baked soil of Oklahoma to mingle with and dissolve in the oppressive, humid air of New Orleans. The laid-back, rhythmic grooves that result from this exchange suitably embrace Bonneville’s vocal delivery as he impressively finds the commonalities that connect Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, and Bob Dylan. In fact, there are moments when Goin’ by Feel sounds as if it was meant to be a musical response to Dylan’s Modern Times. For certain, Bonneville’s approach draws so heavily from his influences that his material fits as comfortably as an old glove. Nevertheless, he also refuses to allow his songs to dissipate in what could have been an act of mere imitation. Bonneville fills each tune with an unshakable presence, and as his weathered but soulful voice becomes entangled in his harmonica and guitar accompaniments, the listener is lured into the seductive currents of his arrangements, which wind their way from the gentle flow of Sabine River to the sinewy textures of I Am the Big Easy.

Goin’ by Feel, however, isn’t without its missteps, and the problems with the set enter the picture as soon as the funky blues of Reckless Feeling gives way to Carry the Fallen’s mournful dirge. Standing in sharp contrast to its predecessor’s amiable gait, the latter song details the deadly fate of American soldiers in Iraq, and although it suitably strikes a mood that is claustrophobically spooky and dark, this complete and total shift in the album’s disposition seems to come out of nowhere. Rather than enhancing the potency of the underlying message, it undermines all of the groundwork that so carefully had been laid before it. Bonneville tries to salvage what’s left by beating a hasty retreat to the safer terrain of Goin’ by Feel’s title track, but it’s too late. The damage has been done, and the twinkling beauty of his duet with Eliza Gilkyson on Shy Star — the only cut from the latter third of the effort that is on par with his opening volley — is lost amidst the inferior material that immediately surrounds it. starstarstar ½

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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


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