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Ray Stinnett - A Fire Somewhere

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Artist: Ray Stinnett

Album: A Fire Somewhere

Label: Light in the Attic

Review date: Nov. 29, 2012

Ray Stinnett’s A Fire Somewhere has been in limbo since 1971, so it’s not surprising that it’s a bit of a time capsule. On it, Ray Stinnett’s southern-boogie upbringing (he grew up in Memphis) collides gently with late-1960s mysticism (he lived on a commune in Northern California) and hazy hippie politics (several songs, including “Stop” and “America” grapple indefinitely with anti-war issues).

Stinnett had been playing and singing in public for a good decade before A Fire Somewhere, most notably as the guitar player for Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs, who made rock ‘n’ roll history in 1965 with “Wooly Bully.” Stinnett left the band about a year afterwards, travelling with his wife and first son to Northern California’s Morning Star Ranch and, presumably, absorbing some of the peace, love and raga influences that color A Fire Somewhere. (“Naturally High” samples a Hare Krishna chant.) Stinnett and his family moved back to Memphis in 1968, where he met Booker T. Jones, who eventually hooked him up with a recording contract at A&M records. Stinnett recorded A Fire Somewhere in Memphis, but A&M stalled the release and eventually cancelled it altogether.

So, A Fire Somewhere is another long-lost 1970s folk album, full of dusty, half-remembered political posturing and dopey assumptions about peace and love. In its favor, Stinnett is an appealing figure, his wavery tenor freighted with warmth and sincerity. He’s a nice guy — that comes through full-blast — and he obviously means what he’s saying about man’s tracks in the sand (“Salty Haze”), the value of stopping all war (“Stop”) and the self-evident benefits of getting our thing together for freedom (“America”).

And yet, every song is a string of clichés and generalities. There’s nothing to think about, nothing to linger over. It’s enough to make you long for Dylan’s sidewise surreality or Phil Ochs’ specificity.

The music is better than the words, fluctuating between down-home country blues and a spooky, evocative form of altered folk. “Honey Suckle Song” is the prettiest of the traditional songs, full of stately piano chords and lush, gospel-flavored choruses. It’s simple, the kind of song that seems to have always been there and could never have been any different. “The Rain,” which closes the album, is the other highlight, a shimmery, shape-shifting concoction of revival tent salvation and slow-rocking grit and sweat. Stinnett is quite a good guitar player, too, quick-fingered and sly in the boogie songs, soulful and sure in the blues tunes.

If there’s nothing wrong with A Fire Somewhere, there’s also nothing very exciting about it. It’s warm, good-hearted and a bit dim, and when it reminds you of other 1960s icons like Jimi Hendrix (“You Make Me Feel”), Little Feat (“Liberty Train”) and Van Morrison (“The Rain”), it reminds you mostly of what made them better.

By Jennifer Kelly

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