"Piano Blues"

Artist: Michael Ray

Album: Can I Run To You

By International Music Reviewer Nick DeRiso


West Coast-based pianist Michael Ray has been performing with sibling drummer

Stephen since they were 10 and 7 years old, respectively. Together, they’ve played

more than 2,300 concerts together. That deeply ingrained sense of musical

brotherhood, almost like the two are finishing each other’s sentences, plays out on the

idiosyncratic, cool-rocking single “Piano Blues.”

Michael opens the song with gospel-tinged piano run, playing over the top of a loping, idiosyncratic rhythm from Stephen. It’s a beat that strongly recalls the jazz funerals that parade through the slanted downtown streets of New Orleans, and it defines the record. See, as “Piano Blues” moves forward, the keyboard performance can recall Oscar Peterson, with its muscular definition and urgent runs. Then, as Michael begins to comp with one hand and circle and cry with the other, there’s a bluesy complexity that points toward Horace Silver. Except that neither played in front of the complex cacophony of Stephen’s drumming. Taken together, it’s all perhaps most reminiscent of Blues Hall of Famer Henry Roeland Byrd, the New Orleans piano genius who took the stage name Professor Longhair. Both Michael Ray and Byrd share a quirk-filled musical sensibility, one that brings in a dizzying array of influences and then lets the song take its own sometimes bumpy, always intriguing course. Stephen, too, recalls Byrd’s galloping sides; in particular “Tipitina,” which featured an intricate, though similarly soulful rhumba beat from Earl Palmer.

Part of what promises to be the brothers’ sixth compact disc together, “Piano Blues” then moves into a slowly swaying signature. From this tender moment, sad but resolute, Michael then concludes with a stirring blues-inflected run. That brings the song to a close in a more conventional manner, as the rhythm comes to a crashing halt, yet it still underscores the broader talents that the brother's possess.

If this song is any indication, their forthcoming release promises to be a sweeping, offbeat joy.


By International Music Reviewer Nick DeRiso


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