ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MAY 1, 2003
By Steve Newton
Ray Bonneville’s fifth CD, Roll It Down, features an entrancing little ditty called “Tiptoe Spider”, a bluesy, J.J. Cale–style tribute to the soundless movements of the wily arachnid. On the phone from his Montreal home, the singer-songwriter-guitarist explains that he got the idea for the song from one of his main nonmusical influences, American novelist Cormac McCarthy of All the Pretty Horses fame.
“I first heard the term tiptoe spider from one of his books,” he says. “I forgot all about it, and then one night I was havin’ a drink in the apartment, and I saw this spider walkin’, and I said, ‘Man, I wonder what it’s like to be him?’ So I wrote the tune as though I was the spider.”
The understated “Tiptoe Spider” and several other tracks on Roll It Down benefit greatly from the subtle percussion work of Geoff Arsenault, who will be Bonneville’s sole accompaniment when the Rogue Folk Club brings him to the WISE Hall next Thursday (May 8). On a few of the CD’s tunes Bonneville goes totally solo, performing with just “guitar, vocal, and foot”. He relishes the stripped-down approach.
“It’s how I tour a lot of the time,” says the Ottawa-born musician. “You know, some of these songs are just not asking for anything else at all, and so I leave them alone. I kind of have a tendency to ask the song how it likes to be dressed.”
Bonneville had no problem finding skilled musical tailors for the Roll It Down tracks he felt needed instrumental attire. On several songs he’s joined by a full band, featuring such stalwarts as keyboardist Richard Bell of The Band, bassist Joey Spampinato from NRBQ, and Canuck roots great Colin Linden, who performs on bass, baritone guitar, and mandolin. (Linden also coproduced the CD, and was at the helm for Bonneville’s 1999 disc Gust of Wind, which won a Juno for best blues album.)
Other musicians taking part on Roll It Down include drummer Brian Owings (Buddy Miller, Delbert McClinton) and vocalist Jonell Mosser, both based out of Nashville, where the album was partially recorded at Deep Field Studio.
Bonneville also worked on parts of Gust of Wind in Nashville, and he performed there this year at the Folk Alliance conference. The 54-year-old tunesmith feels a powerful connection to Music City and the legendary artists it’s produced.
“Today’s country music I’m not very attracted to,” he stresses, “but the old-style-country guys like Hank Williams Sr. and Patsy Cline and George Jones—that’s what first got me excited. Johnny Cash. All that stuff that to me is very real, you know, and it’s timeless as well.”