One Track Mind: Michael Ray, “Piano Blues” (2011)

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West Coast-based pianist Michael Ray has been performing with sibling drummer Stephen since they were 10 and 7 years old, respectively. Together, they’ve played more than 2,300 concerts together. That deeply ingrained sense of musical brotherhood, almost like the two are finishing each other’s sentences, plays out on the idiosyncratic, cool-rocking single “Piano Blues.”

Michael opens the song with gospel-tinged piano run, playing over the top of a loping, idiosyncratic rhythm from Stephen — a beat that strongly recalls the jazz funerals that parade through the slanted downtown streets of New Orleans. That complex cacophony defines the record.

Taken together, their sound is perhaps most reminiscent of Blues Hall of Famer Henry Roeland Byrd, the New Orleans piano genius who took the stage name Professor Longhair. Both Michael Ray and Byrd share a quirk-filled musical sensibility, one that brings in a dizzying array of influences and then lets the song take its own sometimes bumpy, always intriguing course. Stephen, too, recalls Byrd’s galloping sides; in particular “Tipitina,” which featured an intricate, though similarly soulful rhumba beat from Earl Palmer.

Part of what promises to be the brothers’ sixth album together, “Piano Blues” then moves into a slowly swaying signature. From this tender moment, sad but resolute, Michael then concludes with a stirring blues-inflected run. That brings the song to a close in a more conventional manner, as the rhythm comes to a crashing halt, yet it still underscores the broader talents that these brothers possess.

If this song is any indication, their forthcoming release, Can I Run To You (due May 30), promises to be a sweeping, offbeat joy.

‘Piano Blues by Michael Ray

Order Michael Ray’s Can I Run To You through his web site, www.michaelraypiano.com.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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