Review by John Hardaker at The Orange Press
24 October, 2013
You can link to it here or read the text below.
“Big Blind” Ray Lechminka is one of the towering characters of the Sydney blues and roots scene. His larger-than-life presence – both physically and musically – is reminiscent of a time when giants such as Howlin’ Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson roamed the earth, blowing down tall trees and even taller women with a mighty blast from a Marine Band blues-harp.
Big Blind Ray may not quite yet be of that immortal stature, but I for one would not want to be in his path when he blows his harmonica, son. His Trio’s self-titled debut – Big Blind Ray Trio – has captured that raw power and just plain workin’-mojo across eight chooglin’ tracks.
Together with guitarist Karl “P. Hound” Mardon and livewire drummer Rebecca Clarke, Lechminka has cooked up a feast for fans of the Blues, ancient and modern. From opener ‘Hipshake’ – the Slim Harpo raver made famous by the Rolling Stones on Exile on Main Street – through essentials such as Wolf’s ‘Smokestack Lightning’ and Willie Dixon‘s totemic ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’, the Big Blind Ray Trio cooks with all pots on. Originals ‘Keep Myself Close’ and ‘Mereki’ – written with guest guitarist Cam Kinsey – fit seamlessly with the classics; the band obviously eat and breathe this music.
Recorded at Katoomba’s Soundheaven and Sydney’s Nut’n'Butter, and mixed by simpatico mixer Michael Wheatley, the resulting album catches a nice balance between live vibe (with this music moreso than almost any other, if the vibe ain’t there, don’t bother) and sharp playing.
And, thank God and Muddy, Lechminka doesn’t seem to have a purist bone in his big body – mixed in are Tony Joe White‘s wry ‘Polk Salad Annie’ (nuzzled along by Serge Coniglione‘s Fender bass) and The Stones’ ‘Ventilator Blues’ – along with ‘Hipshake’, a nod to their 70s golden-period (not to mention the ‘secret track’ at the end of closer ‘Goin’ Down South’, a moody take on Sticky Fingers‘ ‘You Got To Move’, Sydney via London via Mississippi Fred McDowell).
It’s all good, big-hearted stuff. If you like the Blues, if you like the more current take on the form, or the ancient tales retold loud and proud, you will love Big Blind Ray Trio.
Prior to posting this review I asked Ray Lechminka a handful of questions. Here are his responses.
The Orange Press: The Trio sounds very raw and lean – was it a conscious decision to travel light without a bass player?
Big Blind Ray: Very much so. Apart from the obvious aspect of having one less mouth to feed – musically I felt the need to work on a project that omitted the bass as a way of developing a sonic framework that was sympathetic to this. I think we have managed to successfully pull this off and in turn further develop our individual style. I was also very much inspired by the sounds of the North Mississippi Hill Country Blues style and the modern interpretations that spawned from this movement.
TOP: Your material draws from the best – Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon and even second generation white bluesmen such as The Rolling Stones and Tony Joe White – do you think the past was a golden period for The Blues?
BBR: I think so yes. The songs that we picked to record on the album were the acid test as to whether we could take our simple line up and make it work in a modern context without losing the sensibility of the old style.
TOP: What do you think it is about Blues-based music that seems to still get people jumping for joy?
BBR: For me, discovering the Blues was like returning back to a source – THE source if you will of Western Pop and Rock based music. When I listen to the Blues it feels like I’ve come home musically and that brings me joy. There has certainly been a resurgence in the sound over the past few years and perhaps the new blood out there spearheading and embracing this old sound are experiencing something similar to what I did and still continue to feel.
TOP: Will we be seeing more originals creeping into The Big Blind Ray Trio’s set over time?
BBR: For sure! We are writing new material and hope to record again round this time next year with all original content. But it’s no race. As much as we want to be regarded for originality as well as keeping the old sound alive, writing good songs is paramount and particularly writing original music that incorporates the sound of my instrument (Harmonica) within a context that isn’t just straight out 12 bar blues matters to me.
TOP: What are your thoughts on the state of The Blues today?
BBR: I think the Blues is alive and well. If anything there has been a resurgence of the genre locally over the past few years and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down and that excites me.
TOP: What are your thoughts on mainstream music in general today?
BBR: There is a lot of great popular music out there. I won’t delve into my guilty Pop pleasures but hey – I’m sure we can all agree on this: What makes music so beautiful is that there is something for everybody and if you find you connect with a song and it brings you joy then who am I to cast judgement as to whether that is in good or bad taste and who are you to do the same?