I had never heard of Richard Ray Farrell before receiving this CD for review but some internet searching reveals that he was born in 1956 in Niagara Falls, NY. He headed off to Europe after high school and started busking in Paris in 1975. He lived in Spain, then Germany, working with local bands and backing visiting Americans including Frank Frost and RL Burnside. He played in a band with ex-Mothers Of Invention drummer, Jimmy Carl Black, before moving back to the States in 2001 to the Philadelphia area where he plays in an acoustic blues duo and has released two previous CDs on his own Blue Beet label.
On this new CD Richard handles all vocals, guitars and harp, with Mike Lampe on upright bass, Ira Kaye on drums and Bill Heid on keyboards. Guests include Marco Pandolfi on harp, Brian Cox on sousaphone and Mark Magnani on washboard, each guesting on two tracks each. A trio of backing singers assist on the final track, Ride That Freedom Train?. The CD was recorded in Newtown, PA and consists of entirely original material by Richard, who also produced the album. One other interesting detail is that the sleeve notes include a note from Dennis Walker who knows a lot about making great records with Robert Cray and pays fulsome tribute to his friend Richard's talents.
The CD opens with the low notes of the sousaphone on Ol' Man Blues, a back porch blues with plucked acoustic guitar and harp. Across the CD there is a wide variety of styles, so I imagine that Richard placed this track first deliberately, rather than the more obvious choice of track two, Cherry On The Cream, an electric tune that is really catchy: "I got a woman, she's so cute, for her there ain't no substitute" is the opening line. The piano on this track is excellent and Richard gives us a nice plucked solo in T Bone style. Bad As You Wanna Be features guest harp player Marco Pandolfi on a fast-paced shuffle that bounces along before another shift in styles to solo acoustic slide on Memphis Bound. On a tune that recalls Can?t Be Satisfied Richard recalls some of his European experiences: "Had a little girl up in Stockholm Sweden, she gave me everything I was needin', but I just couldn't quit that travelling bug". The first time I have heard Sweden and needin' rhymed!
Starting Over Again moves the musical focus again, this time Richard conjuring up the spirit of the classic soul sounds and doing a great job. His vocals are pitched just right, the piano and Hammond underpin the tune and his guitar solo is right in line with the sounds of Memphis. Hearing Listenin To The Fallin' Rain without the benefit of the CD cover you might think that this was a new John Hiatt record. The tune opens with some lonesome harp, twinkling piano and warm bass but it is Richard's vocal that is the star turn here: "Tell me how you doing these days? Are you living with your folks in the country, are you back in LA? Do you ever get lonely, does it bring back the pain when you're standing by your window listening to the falling rain" are the final lines of this superb song.
A more bluesy approach follows on Leisure Man with more strong harp playing by Marco Pandolfi, the lyric telling us that Richard is "100% signifying, known throughout the land!" Steady Eatin' Woman adds a touch of humor with its tale of the girlfriend who is eating Richard out of house and home yet never seems to put on any weight: "If there?s one thing you got, darling, that's appetite. Burgers and fries, pancakes by the stack and eight times a day you're ready for another snack." A mid-paced shuffle with nice piano and more T Bone style guitar from Richard. Little Suzie takes the pace up a notch with the story of a girl who likes to dance.
Sweet Dreams Of You is a relaxed affair, the double bass and brushed drums starting off the tune before Richard's warm vocal and the featured piano playing of Bill Heid come to the fore on a tune that has more than a hint of jazz in its styling. In contrast Skitchin is an instrumental feature for Richard?s guitar playing, the drums driving the tune along at a fast pace. Final track ?Ride That Freedom Train? brings the album to a close with a touch of gospel.
The title of the CD (not to be confused with the 1970s Weather Report album of similar name!) indicates that Richard Ray Farrell intends to demonstrate his versatility and that is certainly achieved here. There is a lot to enjoy here across a wide spectrum of blues and roots music.
Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music and is currently planning his trip to the Blues Blast Awards in October.