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Ray Mason Band | Three Dollar Man (Captivating Music)
I'm delighted that I hadn't encountered Ray Mason until 'Three Dollar Man', because it's always a joy finding out about guys like him. This is his 13th album, in 20 years that have seen little press or attention, and yet he still keeps churning them out, and making a living. I find that heartening. Oh, I nearly forgot the three albums he's recorded as a member of outfit Lonesome Brothers, and the fact that Captivating Music is his own self-run label. He's a lad who likes to keep his hand in, is Ray. He tours, too, and has shared stages with NRBQ, The Band, Marshall Crenshaw, Robbie Fulks, Yo La Tengo, Steve Forbert, Nils Lofgren, Warren Zevon, Alejandro Escovedo and Ass Ponys. Impressive. And Joan Jett. Not so impressive, but it pays the mortgage. So, I like Ray Mason before I've heard a note. I like his style, and now I like his music. Enjoy Tom Petty, The Replacements, Steely Dan? Then you'll flip for Ray Mason and his tough band. Opener Blessing The Girl is a joyous power-pop nugget putting me in mind of Joel Plaskett sung by Neil Young, with drummer Frank Marsh, guitarist Tom Shea and bassist Stephen Desaulniers providing a meaty backing (the latter pair former Scud Mountain Boys). Time and again on this album, they come on like The Attractions or The Rumour - solid, hard, and soulful. The title track is a jazz-tinged shuffler, with Mason aping Donald Fagen to a tee; Newsboy's Toss is spectacular jangle pop that provides a thought for the day as its hook - "Some people spend years trying to find what we're throwing away"; I've Got A Good Dentist is just as well, considering the possible reactions should Graham Parker or Andy Partridge hear it, and then there's 1:55 of cheeky country sniping at venue owners and bookers. "You'll never play here again / don't even give it a try / I won't return your calls / you'll do better at the malls / and you'll never play here again," relates the songs villain. Cute. There's a chunk of Southern boogie with Sid Fargus, and the unremarkable Someone I Can't Get Over best left 'til last. Ten songs in 27 minutes (with 9 under three), but less is more, short is sweet, all killer, no filler, blah blah drone...

Tom Sheriff
August 2002