I confess that my first thought upon hearing of this collection was: “A three-CD ‘legacy’ release of ‘rare and unreleased recordings’ from Dave Ray?? I’ve never even heard of the guy.”
But it turns out that I was in fact well acquainted with his music, though not with his first name. Instead, I knew him as the “Ray” in Koerner, Ray and Glover, a first-rate Minnesota-based trio that played a key role in widening the audience for folk and blues in the 1960s.
Conceived and produced by Ray’s old bandmate Tony Glover, who provides extensive liner notes in a 32-page booklet, this package focuses primarily on the artist’s solo work. It begins with three performances from 1962, the year Ray turned 19, and covers many highlights from the next four decades, among them two numbers from his final hometown concert with Geoff Muldaur, which took place shortly before his 2002 death from cancer.
With only a few exceptions, the tracks are previously unreleased. Glover collected them from a wide variety of sources, including old analog reel-to-reel and cassette tapes recorded at concerts and during radio broadcasts. As such, you shouldn’t expect pristine sound from everything here.
The 55-track collection—on Red House, which previously reissued three early 60s Koerner, Ray & Glover albums—showcases an artist who had an affinity for traditional country (“Wildwood Flower”), country blues (“Lonesome Road”), and rock (the raucous instrumental “Old Country Rock”). It also demonstrates that Ray was adept at emulating his heroes (Lead Belly’s “Frankie and Albert”) and at remaking classics lyrically and musically (an innovative, infectious “It’s All Over Now”). Among the many other standouts are a beautifully sung “Take Time to Know Her,” the Percy Sledge chestnut; a live, wistful reading of Bill Broonzy’s “Key to the Highway,” Rufus Thomas’s “Walking the Dog,” which features Ray’s guitar wizardry; and a masterful concert performance of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “You Got to Move.”
Taken together, the three CDs suggest that Ray remains seriously underappreciated. Certainly, he didn’t get his due during his lifetime, when he was often unable to make ends meet by simply playing his music. This package includes a radio spot for a department store that features Dave’s work (possibly the most soulful commercial you’ll ever hear). It also incorporates a version of Jimmy Reed’s “Take Out Some Insurance” that, as Glover’s notes explain, represents a “wry nod” to the fact that Ray earned his living for 15 years by taking over his father’s insurance business and “finding coverage for the aging hippies and freaks.”
Besides being a fine musician, he may well have been the coolest insurance salesman of all time.