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Ray's Vast Basement- a few reviews...
Ray's Vast Basement
"On the Banks of The Time"
On The Banks Of The Time at Amazon.com
Ray's Vast Basement: A few reviews of the 2000 album are collected here. For audio clips and more on this album, see Silent Way's discography entry.
Spin Magazine's Top 10 albums of 2000 (Staff Picks) - Sean Howe, Contributing Writer. (Or try this link.)
From Aquarius Records:
"One of the most refreshing listens we've heard in a long long while, Ray's Vast Basement is a collection of perfectly-crafted, honest-to-gosh SONGS written in the tradition of gravelly-voiced observers-of-life such as John Prine, Bob Dylan... "On the Banks of Time" is a fully formed aesthetic triumph complete with a lyric booklet and a stunningly executed, heartbreakingly poignant series of 60 cards detailing the 100,000,000-year history of Ray's Basement, the fictional cave in the town about which all the songs are written. Wow!"
- Aquarius Records, San Francisco
"Ray's Vast Basement is bound to be one of the most refreshing and satisfying musical experiences you've had in a long time. The amorphous Northern California ensemble plays warm, organic, earthy rock infused with a strong sense of narrative and purpose. Tom Waits's gravel-voiced tales of the weird, walleyed misfits and lowlifes of the world and Bruce Springsteen's ghostly Nebraska-era Americana parables both come to mind occasionally, as does the music of such great American storytellers as Ramblin' Jack Elliott, John Prine, and Bob Dylan. The project grew out of the twisted and brilliant mind of singer and multi-instrumentalist Jon Bernson, though it has since grown into a loose conglomeration featuring a dozen musicians.
Bernson's inspiration is the fictional hundred-thousand-year history of an invented cave, the titular Ray's Vast Basement, which, following its 1579 discovery by Sir Francis Drake, supposedly passed through the hands of missionaries, shippers, a lighthouse keeper, bootleggers, suffragists, hippies, surfers, and ravers, before finally being repossessed by an international investment firm and converted to a seaside resort. Bernson loosely roots his little musical fables in the history of the cave and of Drakesville, the city that sits on the cliffs beneath which the cave is hidden, and the imaginary region of Crimson Bay which contains both cave and town. In doing so, Bernson establishes an alternate, peculiarly Northern Californian cosmology, sort of like a pop-rock equivalent of Faulkner's legendary Yoknapatawpha County, with its own clandestine geography, its own set of characters and conflicts, its own legends and mythology. It's exquisitely rendered and deeply compelling; with each listen you get a bit deeper into this mysterious world.
The songs unfold slowly, in a rambling, unhurried style. Bernson's voice, dusky and warm, mahogany in color, sandpapery in texture, was just made for telling stories. The music is almost ridiculously lush, beautiful dusty arrangements full of violins, harmonica, plucked guitar, soprano and tenor sax, trumpet, slide guitar, bongos, and atmospheric textures that feature elements of heartland rock, folk and country, cabaret, and even vocal jazz, with tastes of flamenco and Afro-Cuban music. This music enriches Bernson's elegies to Drakesville, just as the chapters of Bernson's secret history give meaning to RVB's music."
- J. Ashlock, Epitonic.com
From the World Cafe, a nationally syndicated radio show on hundreds of US stations:
Click here to hear David Dye's World Cafe show featuring RVB. David Dye calls it a "homemade masterpiece". (Note that "Bernson" actually rhymes with "fern-son," not "bear-nson"). For more, see the RVB official site.
"Down-home country-based songs, filtered through holes in the oddball minds of some very likeable gentlemen. 'On The Banks Of The Time' is as funny, true and vivid as the music they love; this is obviously the start of something big."
- Dan Buskirk, WXPN-FM, Philadelphia
From the San Francisco Weekly 8/23/00:
"The songs are written as deeply personal metaphors inspired loosely by faded snapshots. Bernson identifies himself in first person as the fire that swept through Drakesville; similarly, his love songs, written about 'historical' figures, are anchored in the land but not restricted by it. The music unfolds, like the lyrics, with a rambling poet's eye... Despite a dark, salty landscape and atmospheric samples from David MacGillis, Ray's Vast Basement's compositions bear the dusky, granular quality of cowboy songs, emphasized by Bernson's clean, sun-baked vocalization. There are sing-along moments, drinking moments, sobbing moments, swaying moments, and moments of strong, simple, outsider "
- Silke Tudor, SF Weekly
From the San Francisco Weekly 9/24/03:
"...both a melodious novel and one of the most literary musical experiences you'll ever have... a wily mix of folk and rock songs that offers just enough atmospheric elements (keyboards, samples, etc.) to give it a mysterious edge."
- Garrett Kamps, SF Weekly
From the Philadelphia City Paper 11/16/00:
"Ray's Vast Basement, named for a fictional California cave-turned-speakeasy, is a fuzzy-bordered San Francisco outfit purveying an imaginative breed of West Coast country for the hip and the down-home alike. Jon Bernson, who's been compared to Tom Waits for his swarthy-voiced singing and oblique lyrics, is the songwriter behind it all, spinning dark ballads of an imagined town. Audacious and poetic, he takes on the voice of a destructive fire, a no-good drifter, the earth itself. Behind him, acoustic and electric guitars unite with violins, pianos, the occasional trumpet or saxophone. RVB's self-released CD, On The Banks Of The Time, comes with a songbook and chord charts. But half the songs in the book aren't on the CD, as if the others got lost somewhere, maybe dropped into that California cave you can't find on any real map. Who knows what else is hiding under RVB's cliffs?"
- Sara Marcus, Philadelphia City Paper
"It takes a truly talented songwriter to pull off a concept album. Jon Bernson and Ray's Vast Basement have created an exceptional, well-produced, thoughtful collection of songs... The music has a minimalism and restraint that's refreshing- guitars answer and complement, rhythms guide rather than push, while judicious use of horns, strings, and piano accent rather than define their sound."
- Dan Dion
from the Kansas City Pitch, 10/25/02:
"...Ray's Vast Basement has one of those rare band names that actually describes the group's music. With a penchant for storytelling, acoustic instruments, sultry grooves and moments of Beat clarity, On the Banks of the Time, its latest, sounds like members of Soul Coughing and Widespread Panic setting a James M. Cain novel to music. The band tells a story well, but even more important, its musical quirks fulfill a purpose. The violins, vibes, horns, crowd noise and mayhem are in the mix because they sound good, not just because there were a few spare tracks to fill. In Ray's Vast Basement, the junk is well-crafted, fascinating and not quite like anything you've heard before."
- Mike Warren, Kansas City Pitch
"Musically, the story translates into one of the most wonderful albums I’ve heard in a very long time. It is ambitious in scope, dynamic in design and authentic in feel. With every listen, it reveals more depth, bringing the listener in closer. Its sound is as luscious and haunting as the Northern California coast from which the band comes and where the mythological town of Drakesville is. ... The band doesn’t simply play music, rather they use it as a language, allowing it to communicate concepts and feelings words are not able to. Lyrically speaking, Bernson is not afraid of simplicity, yet he never uses complexity to embellish or over-decorate his songs. He has an ability to craft a simple narrative, to speak in a Dylan-esque dialogue as he tells stories from the inside out."
from Adequacy.net, 11/4/02:
"Jon Bernson is nothing short of a musical genius. A master storyteller, his songs are rich in telling details that pull you in, as he creates a musical landscape of such pure beauty that you're left searching for your breath as you scratch your head in disbelief that this artist has not yet been signed. Ray’s Vast Basement may be one of the best-kept secrets in the music world, but hopefully not for long. ... 'On the Banks of the Time' is a must-have recording from a perspicacious and intelligent songwriter who is bound to be a central figure in American songwriting during the 21st century."