Ray's Vast Basement,
By a River Burning Blue
(BMI, 2003)

Ray's Vast Basement, a group based in Drakesville, Calif., is a musical time capsule or, better yet, time machine. Their name comes from a cave with a rich cultural heritage near California's Crimson Bay. Their songs follow the history and legends of the area from Sir Francis Drake to the age of rum runners and an infamous speakeasy with the same name as the band. Their first album, On the Banks of the Time, contains ballads told from the viewpoint of historical figures from Drakesville and even inanimate objects like the Earth itself and the Drakesville fire.

Their latest release, By a River Burning Blue, opens with a slow and haunting tune, "Invisible Chords," and continues along in a tone of melancholy folk with "Grey." Next is "Sir Francis Drake," a ghost story about the explorer who discovered the cave on Crimson Bay in 1579.

Lonesome steel guitars echo in "With Your Stone," another standout track. "Catriona" is a beautiful instrumental with a melody on violin that sounds like it was plucked straight out of the Civil War era. RVB lightens up the mood with the delightful story of "Inspector Blues," a legendary crime fighter. The Inspector "can recognize a footprint / before he's seen the shoe, / spot a clue a mile away, / he knows you're lying when you say, / Ricky was a friend of mine, the news was hard to bear."

"Fountain Pen" is another ghost story that mixes elements of Americana with the distinctive indie rock sound of the Drakesville boys. The title track is a strange melody about a famous psychic who gained notoriety after foreseeing the great fire of Drakesville. Trumpets wail against a southwestern backbeat on the instrumental "Leed's Point," which leads into "Murder in the Barn," a bluesy bit about the killing of a Drakesville man. The album closes out with an a cappella tune, "Blue Ant," a field holler about an extinct species of ant indigenous to the Crimson Bay area.

Ray's Vast Basement mixes musical metaphors, drawing from the rich folk heritage of the Southwest and adding its own particular style of rock to create a form of music that is aged, but ageless. Aside from the tasty stew of Americana, the ingenious explication of the stories of Drakesville themselves make this band a must-hear.

- Rambles
written by Philip Fairbanks
published 31 July 2004

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