Review from Twin Cities Blues Review by Peter Lee
September 1998 · Volume 3 Issue 32
Dave “Snaker” Ray · Snake Eyes
- (Tim Kerr Records 172-2)
The biblical text that speaks of a prophet remaining unsung in his native land has yet again been proven to be all too true with the paucity of critical acclaim and lack of airplay given to Dave “Snaker” Ray’s latest solo outing, “Snake Eyes.” A modern day musical prophet, Dave Ray was playing way-back-in-the-woods country blues on the West Bank in the early 1960’s when many folks’ ideas of the blues involved half a dozen jolly dixieland enthusiasts in straw hats and striped blazers gleefully murdering “St. Louis Blues” and the like every other Sunday night. With the pioneering trio of Koerner, Ray and Glover, our man Dave helped guide the way through the morass of the era’s Folk Revival toward the heart of the real thing, a major contributing factor to our record and CD collections not having things like TRINI LOPEZ SINGS ROBERT JOHNSON on the shelves. For the past three and a half decades, in the face of countless trends, he has remained firmly grounded in the tradition while carving out his own unique take on the eternal twelve bar veracities. There are innumerable singing guitar stingers out there on the Blues Highway (Blues/Rock Interstate?) but how many of these fedoraed mooks have a truly personal style? In person or on record, Dave’s ringing twelve string is immediately identifiable in the first bar of the first tune, and his smoky, well seasoned, immensely believable vocals do more that just carry the words of his songbag’s blues classics, they actually tell a story, and not merely by rote. This is not an artist to be taken for granted — pay attention and you just might learn something about the music and about life…
Snake Eyes opens with Arthur Crudup’s “So Glad You’re Mine,” a tune covered by a young Elvis in 1956. But of course, this version owes little to The King, or to Crudup, either. The balance of the disc’s fourteen tracks, all covers, are a mix of the well known and the completely obscure. Dave puts precisely the right amount of swagger into Willie Dixon’s “I Live The Life I Love” and tries a little tenderness in Lonnie Johnson’s beautiful blues ballad “Tomorrow Night,” with equal facility. Mercy Dee’s “One Room Country Shack” is taken at a brisk tempo, powered by big swing chords instead of the tune’s usual funereal pace, and it works! “My Mind Is Trying To Leave Me” sounds genuinely disturbed, as does Peg Leg Howell’s “Coal Man Blues.” It’s great to have a studio version of Brook Benton’s “Kiddeo,” a staple of Dave’s live performances for many a moon. The disc’s standout track, though, may well be his deadpan rendition of Arthur Alexander’s tale of resignation and resilience “If It’s Really Got To Be This Way.” A southern soul masterpiece in its original incarnation and here a track that begs for a click or two of the replay button. As far as can be determined, “Spyglass Blues” is the first appearance on record of any of Willie T. Peabohn’s music in over seventy years: A contemporary of Charlie Patton and Son House, Peabohn recorded only two 78’s for the tiny Meridian label before completely vanishing. Only one copy of one of the two discs has turned up in the modern ear, and that rarest of the rare cracked and broke within days of its rediscovery, but luckily, not before one side of it was taped by the Czech Jazz collector who came upon it in an Eastern European Flea Market. Sadly, we may never know just what the flipside, “Insurance Blues,” sounded like.
The production and engineering on Snake Eyes are absolutely perfect – it sounds as if Dave and his twelve string are in the room with the listener – and in case you’ve been wondering, it’s not to be mistaken for half a “Ray and Glover” disc or third of a “Koerner, Ray and Glover” project – this is a true solo project. A major statement from a true modern master of the idiom. Front page stories should be forthcoming…