Three names, no hat: Richard Ray Farrell, who's just returned Stateside after nearly three decades in Europe as a street musician and bandleader, has recorded his first domestic album. Bohemian Life (Blue Beet 100001) is a dazzling demonstration of his writing and performing skill.
The 16 originals display tasty harmonica and guitar, no-jive singing, and range: "Cold Heart" hits with a martial drum pattern and crisply staccato guitar lines, "Bad Intentions" is pure Muddy Waters, "Blues All In My Home" could be Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry (that's Jerry Portnoy on harp), and "Mean Case Of The Blues" and "Fine Little Number" are Chicago-style blues. "My Heart Beats Just For You" is a cool shuffle driven by Benjie Porecki's organ and Robb Stupka's drums (most of the Severn house band is here, with Bill Heid on piano). Pop-blues? "Natch'l Man." Deep soul? "I Was Wrong." Garage surf? "Jitterboppin'." Spare minor-key cocktail blues? "Lawfully Wedded Wife." Outstanding.
- Tom Hyslop, Blues Revue Magazine
Richard Ray Farrell plays the real blues, steeped in tradition but stamped with his own voice.
Richard’s singing, guitar and harmonica playing and songwriting come from gut feeling and some inner compulsion, like the work of the great blues masters of the past.
-David Evans, blues historian, author and professor of music at Memphis State University, and Grammy Award winner.
“Bohemian Life”…good songwriting, excellent guitar and overall strong musicianship.
-Bruce Iglauer, president and founder of Alligator Records
Rick is one of the best guitar players that I’ve ever played with. When I found out that he was just as talented as a singer and harp player and songwriter, it completely blew me away. So, world, prepare yourself for Richard Ray Farrell!
-Jimmy Carl Black, original drummer for Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention and Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductee
A bright new light on the East Coast blues scene…another 25-year “overnight sensation.”
-Mark Wenner of the Nighthawks
'Bohemian Life' is Richard Ray Farrell's fifth, and first American recorded and produced, release, the others having been recorded in Europe, where he has been based since 1974.Â To celebrate this, Farrell (guitar/harp) has surrounded himself with some of the finest musicians on the blues scene today, the band featuring Steve Gomes (bass), Robb Stupka (drums), Bill Heid (piano), Benjie Porecki (Hammond organ) and Jerry Portnoy (harp).
The set opens with Portnoy's harp leading the band into a classic Chi-Town shuffle, 'Fine Little Number', fine ensemble playing allied to Farrell's unpretentious vocals, lending the number a strong Jimmy Rogers feel that is recreated on 'Mean Case Of The Blues'.Â Portnoy is again in outstanding form as his harp warbles behind Farrell's Delta styled guitar and vocals on 'Blues All In My Home', a number that is fashioned on Muddy's 'Plantation' recordings.
'Bad Intentions' is a brooding blues with feral Elmore styled slide and cascading piano from Heid; Farrell's slide going into "fuzzed out" mode on 'Jealous Man', where his droning vocals and Gomes' pulsing bass lines enhance the Hound Dog feel that permeates this blues.
Farrell is not confined to Chicago blues, displaying his dexterity with some fine finger-picking on the bouncing Piedmont styled 'Oh Sunny Day' and the laid back 'The Hard Road'; melding soul and C&W on 'Natch'l Man', with it's haunting harp (Farrell) and tantalizing piano fills accentuated by Porecki's lingering Hammond; whilst his smooth vocals and Porecki's jazz inflected Hammond ride the relaxed swing the band generates on 'My Heart Beats Just For You'.
Whilst listening to this set, I was reminded of Billy Flynn, a feeling that was perpetuated when I heard 'Jitterboppin'', a surf styled number, with shimmering guitar, reminiscent of the instrumentals that Flynn loves playing so much; and I can pay Farrell no higher compliment than to make that comparison about a set that will appeal to blues lovers of all persuasions.
- Michael Rainsford, "Blues in Britain" magazine
Man, you must be black Irish.
-Sam Greenlee, 1960’s Afro-American activist and author of the best selling novel “The Spook Who Sat By The Door”
16 tracks, 54 minutes. Excellent. Of the hundreds and hundreds of CDs that are released by independent blues artists and bands here in the US each year, many are solid works deserving much wider recognition. Of the countless discs that landed here in the past six months, Bohemian Life by Richard Ray Farrell stands near the top of the list. Aided by a tight and recognized band consisting of Steve Gomes and Robb Stupka anchoring the grooves, Bill Heid delivers piano and Benjie Porecki adds swelling organ, giving Farrell plenty of room for his greasy harp and stinging guitar, and as muscular as his playing is, his voice works as an incredible weapon. Influences are evident throughout the disc's sixteen cuts, but with everything penned by Farrell, the originality stands out. Jerry Portnoy offers his stellar harp to Fine Little Number, Blues All In My Home , and Mean Case Of The Blues , but it's Farrell's own playing and singing that make this work. From the Muddy-infused Bad Intentions with buzzing slide to the New Orleans flavored School Of Hard Knocks , or the Guitar Gable crunch in Jitterhoppin' - all cylinders click making this a focused and gripping effort. Jealous Man is a lowdown acoustic piece with brilliant lyrics and Oh Sunny Day contains deft fingerpicking recalling Mississippi John Hurt, both of these adding a nice twist to this set of mostly-amplified blues. Get a taste of the Bohemian Life.
- Craig Ruskey