Bonfire Recording Company
Anyone who pays more than a little attention to bluegrass music knows that for every band or solo artist who makes it to the “Big Show” there a countless other just as talented who are still out there somewhere waiting in the wings for their time to come around.
I’m particularly reminded of this when listening to the latest release from Missourian Ray Cardwell. As these 10 tracks attest, Cardwell is a fabulous and versatile singer whose vocal prowess brings to mind another great singer: John Cowan, the former lead vocalist nonpareil with the legendary New Grass Revival. Much like Cowan, Cardwell gracefully, imbues his brand of bluegrass with nuances of soul and rhythm and blues, if and when a song calls for it.
This comes through loud and clear on Cardwell’s bluegrass-tinged rendition of the ubiquitous Al Green/Talking heads hit, “Take Me To The River.” Ditto for the exhilarating opening track, “The Grass Is Greener” (cowritten by Cardwell and Daryl Mosley). The latter song is the autobiographical-flavored confessional of a restless soul who has spent too many years searching over the next hill for greener pastures that were right in front of him the whole time.
I used the “autobiographical” just now only because Cardwell’s own musical pilgrim’s progress reads like a long and restless journey. He grew up playing in a bluegrass family band that earned regional repute in and around the Ozarks. He later segued into rock and reggae while singing and playing saxophone and keyboards with various regional bands.
Later, he spent time in Los Angeles and then in Nashville, where he did a several-year stint with the celebrated band, New Tradition.
From there, he returned to Missouri where he earned a college degree, taught music and directed choirs at the college level while raising a family.
Not too many years ago, Cardwell made a vital connection with producer/guitarist Pat Flynn (formerly of New Grass Revival) and landed a deal with Pinecastle Records. That put him on the impressive path he’s been on since.
But back to Just A Little Rain. The title tune (cowritten by Rick Lang and Rich Schleckser) is yet another showstopper. It’s the Biblical-sounding plaint of a man who wavers between faith and despair as he stares out at a sun-scorched landscape of failing crops and bank foreclosures and prays for the skies to darken and bring forth eleventh-hour salvation. “Standing On The Rock” (John Dillon) delivers similar epic drama.
“Shoulda Known Better” (another of the four tunes cowritten by Cardwell) is the regretful lament of man led into temptation by loneliness and desperation. It’s vivified by incredibly inventive lyrics and the sense of vulnerability and pathos imbued by Cardwell’s rousing vocal.
REVIEWED BY Bob Allen