304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – a wonderful blues album with songs that accommodate the guitar rather than the other way round: every one of them guaranteed to meet any blues lover’s requirements.
You have to love the people who write press releases for the world and start it off with “Rust belt Blues guitarist…”. Then to see it across the internet as the PR is copy and pasted on multitudinous web sites: I am British and do not know, although I could guess, what that means…so I used aforementioned t’internet to find out. Apparently, it is an area mainly around the Great Lakes where industrial decline left many factories abandoned and rusting into oblivion. The term encompasses a very large area and a number of states…Larry is from Arkansas and moved to Michigan at the age of twelve and, as he was born in 1960, was witness to this economic and social decline.
That experience and his life’s hardships obviously affected his music…from his debut (Ambition) in 1990 through great albums like Delta Hurricane (1993) and his last release, The Gibson Sessions (2015).
You will also find that it continues to inform his writing, both musically and lyrically, on his newest album, Blues Without You. He puts it quite neatly when he says, “Writing this album made me feel proud, as it allows others to see me as more than a blues musician. The songs are reflective of my broad taste in music styles and the subject matter, although personal at times, is relatable to anyone’s life. Hopefully, the words and message of the songs will help others express their feelings in a similar synopsis.” Larry has always been a formidable player and, after a long absence, he has signed to Joe Bonamassa’s label, Keeping The Blues Alive. This enterprise has already seen some first-class blues records from Joanna Connor, Joanne Shaw Taylor and Dion and Larry is undoubtedly a great fit with Joe’s vision. As a part of a wider foundation, the non-profit Keeping The Blues Alive Foundation aims to “conserve the art of music in schools and preserve the rich culture and history of the blues.” Joe also explains why Larry is such a perfect addition: “Larry McCray is a legend. We have known that for 30 years. He is the last of the great blues shouters from the rust belt. In the spirit of BB King, Luther Allison and Little Milton, Larry is among the greats. It’s now up to the world to rediscover him. He has been here all along.”
Onto the music and the opener, Arkansas, is obviously a tale of his home state and his early years…fortunately, the family ate coleslaw as it rhymes so neatly! The music is first class as the snare, keys and horn intro sets the scene for some impassioned vocals and lashings of superb guitar.
Without Love It Doesn’t Matter captures the blues of old with a modern sheen: the simple, effective snare and piano lay down a barn bred rhythm as Larry adds some soul to the vocals and fire to the guitar interjections and short solo. Good Die Young stays on the soulful side with a horn and backing vocal backing bringing a torch of gospel too. The guitar however remains firmly in the blues and is so subtle behind the vocals, it needs close attention to fully appreciate…the solo isn’t hidden and is pitched and toned perfectly with such deep expressionism.
The first of the special guests appears on the next track, Down To The Bottom, as Warren Haynes brings his tremendous talents to bear on a hybrid of acoustic and aching electric blues ballad. Strings (or electronic sound-alike) join the backing and then we get the subtle slide from Warren and a solo that takes slide work to another level…superb. The latest single, Breaking News, takes a justified poke at the way the media seems content to peddle confusion and falsities twenty-four hours a day. The intro (missing from the single edit) is horn and string sections in Stax mode and then the pace picks up a little as the vocals match the build-up. Then, just when it seems about to just be vocals, the guitar solo breaks brilliantly in to lift the track to a higher plane.
Roadhouse Blues isn’t the Doors classic, but this runs it close as the pure blues pours out through every note as Larry bends and sustains and makes the guitar sing brilliantly and the solo is a maelstrom of emotion transferred via the fretboard and is worth the entry price alone. Listen out for the outstanding bass and keyboard work too. Second special guest time as label mate, Joanna Connor joins in on the rather male-centric and tongue-in-cheek hedonistic sounding Drinkin’ Liquor And Chasin’ Women. I don’t care, because this old blues structured song with modern polish is simply great: piano solo and guitar playing of the highest order from Joanna and Larry. Blues Without You (For Paul) is obviously about someone close to Larry and the tale develops nicely with his emotional vocals backed by (mainly) piano before it expands to swirling strings and, after the almost orchestral bridge, a solo dripping with pathos echoing the loss of the story.
Mr Bonamassa joins in on the next one: Mr Easy opens with delightful bass and keys before the horns and guitars combine to make the soul/blues melange work nicely…and the solos? Pure genius. No More Crying stays with the soulful bent but a hint of gospel too…needless to say the solo that Larry puts together is pure, distinct and not only saves the song but elevates it to a must-listen. Don’t Put Your Dreams To Bed brings a touch of funk as, after the ‘do, do, do’ intro evolves into the sort of soulful gospel-ish blues that would have graced any chart a few years ago as it also carries a hint of pop that makes it so accessible and, again, it’s lifted by the guitar insertions and excellent solo. The final track, I Play The Blues, elicits the thought: ‘damn right you do, Larry’. Its acoustic intro and chord work behind the vocals is like a modern country blues rooted in the 30s…the only shame for this helpless guitar lover is the lack of a solo on the acoustic that would further show Larry’s ability, dexterity and unfailing feel for the blues.
So here is a twelve-track release from a very fine guitarist reborn after a (too) long hiatus and, hopefully, with KTBA Records behind him, the next one won’t take so long.
Without Love It Doesn’t Matter
Good Die Young
Down to the Bottom with Warren Haynes Breaking News
Drinkin’ Liquor And Chasin’ Women with Joanna Connor
Blues Without You (For Paul)
Mr Easy with Joe Bonamassa
No More Crying
Don’t Put Your Dreams To Bed
I Play The Blues
Larry McCray: vocals, guitar
Apologies to the other musicians who played such an important part in the making of this CD…apart from the very special guests the internet failed miserably in my search for these very capable players.
Produced Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith, released on 25th March via Keeping the Blues Alive Records.
(iTunes inevitable moved to another Larry and the electric (in every sense) blues of Larry Miller and his tasty 2007 album, Outlaw Blues…the Marsden sounding lesson in love, Professor Casanova was my pick.)