For decades, bluesman and songwriter Ray Bonneville worked day jobs while playing his songs in coffee houses and house parties at night, eventually earning a place on international festival stages with Muddy Waters and Bukka White long before he had a recording contract. Since 1993, Bonneville's issued a host of recordings of consistently high quality. 2008's Goin' by Feel, produced by Gurf Morlix, scored him a number one at Americana with "I Am the Big Easy," his tribute to New Orleans (Bonneville lived there before relocating to Austin). Bad Man's Blood was co-produced with Justin Douglas and Morlix (electric, baritone, and bass guitars and banjo), percussionist Mike Meadows, and saxophonist Dexter Payne, in various combinations. Bonneville plays an amalgam of acoustic and electric guitars, harmonica, and his trademark foot stomp. The blues songs -- the poetic, narrative title track (inspired no doubt by hardbitten characters from Gothic American fiction) to raw, skeletal, electric snaky rhythm constructions like "Mississippi," that addresses the Delta's tradition in his playing and the horrors of the river flooding in its historical story line. "Night Walker" is a spooky 12-bar, too, but in its acoustic, minor-key architecture, it feels more like a tango. Elsewhere, "Sugar and Riley" has more New Orleans R&B in it, especially with its strolling sax lines and shuffling percussion. "Good Times" and "River John," though very different songs in feel and melody, come from French Canadian and Cajun folk melodies. "Darlin' (Put Your Suitcase Down)," with a beautiful harmony vocal by Morlix and his slow, pulsing bassline, offers Bonneville a supporting tightrope to walk on the most vulnerable love song he's written. "Blonde of Mine" is acoustic Cajun blues at its best, and there are few as good at it as Bonneville. There are no clichés, just the heart of the music's grain. "Crosses and Flowers" is knife-edged in its narrative tension. Morlix and Bonneville's guitars are a hypnotic weave of rhythms and zig-zagging lines, with only Meadows' tom-toms pacing them; they underscore the sinister lyrics. The set closes with the infectious Cajun country of "'Funny 'Bout Love," but not before the all-too-brief, shambolic rent party instrumental "Ray's Jump." With darkness and light fighting for dominance here, Bad Man's Blood emerges as Bonneville's most nakeds record to date. He's stripped away every musical excess to let the songs speak for themselves.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek