Don Bray: I Am Myself
Submitted by Cashbox Canada
Don Bray is no stranger to stressful situations. Years spent as a firefighter pushed him to the edge of human endurance in the name of helping others. Years later, now retired, Bray invests that same sense of courage into the way he writes about life. He doesn’t go part way, pushing himself to the edge in his regard for those he writes and cares about. With that kind of intensity, at his CD release of “I Am Myself” at Hugh’s Room on Nov 4, he may very well burn the joint to the ground. The album is that good.
Bray’s ability to incorporate an obvious love of people into his storytelling only complements the fact he’s a natural singer and a superb songwriter. Reviews of his work yield words like “A thoughtful writer of tales and character sketches that are at once modern and timeless”.
Timeless nails it. Bray’s warm, wonderful voice revisits the sound of so many favourite folk artists from the ‘70s -- elements of Tom Rush, Jim Croce, Fred Neil and Bill Morrissey course through his music and his phrasing – yet his music is very much his own and of his own time, instantly warming the listener to his well-chosen lyrics and hook-laden arrangements. And that’s before you’re taken prisoner by his equally distinguished abilities on guitar. Each song is perfectly crafted: whether you’re a lyrics- or music-first style of listener, one will surely lead you to the other. Bray also has an uncanny ability to sound familiar – as if you’ve loved his work for years, which is no mean feat and a measure of how good a fit he is so quickly. From material that embraces life’s lessons, be they happy or sad ones – gains or losses, finding the positive despite the darkness, self-discovery or learning through man’s inhumanity to man, Bray assigns an array of tempos to set each mood.
Kicking off with a song about your friends knowing you better than you know yourself, “They Were Right” positively rocks for anything driven by folk guitars. It rings true with a distinctive Canadian sound that recalls a Lightfoot classic. An older-school folk song is found in the dynamic “What Clouds Can Do”, beginning with its naked acoustic guitar intro, augmented by Burke Carroll’s weeping pedal steel, Pat McPhail’s warm, leading bass and the beautiful backup vocals of Alyssa Wright – one of the album’s most priceless tracks. “Shine” is an ode to a good friend gone but far from forgotten. Bray digs deep, grafting the remembrance with heartfelt emotion – aided by an earthy electric guitar solo and the heavenly backup vocals of Katherine Wheatley. That “Neil’s Jam” is a blistering, bluegrass-bent instrumental underlines the importance of his musicians, who play a key role in delivering these songs with such subtle eloquence (the above plus Andrew Collins on spirited mandolin, (less-is-more) drummer Adam Campbell, and Darrin Schott on emotive violin). Life’s lessons have made a supreme imprint on the talented Orillia resident and he clearly loves to run in the human race. I Am Myself is a wonderfully positive, uplifting release and Don Bray is an artist who’s well overdue for his rightful recognition on the world stage… five-alarm fires aside.