Christian blues? and it works!

Where the Highway Turns (Metro One)
Sleepy Ray & The Mighty Blood

By Robert Gruber

The five or six of us lucky folks who caught Sleepy Ray McDonald's live set last year at Jubilee Coffeehouse (R.I.P.) all agree that we were witness to the miraculous. Sleepy takes the trademark Texas white-boy blues thang, infuses it with a full-tilt gospel message and Holy Spirit power to put on a show that'll curl your toenails. And while his first album, Under the Mighty Blood, didn't exactly light the fire his live set did, Where the Highway Turns is all that and more.

Backed by brother Bobby McDonald on bass and Kevin Jarvis on drums, Sleepy Ray lays out more soulful groove this time around, as on cuts like "My Answer" and "It's a Loving Thang." Guest keyboardist Ralph Jordan adds warmth and texture with classic B-3 organ and piano. The quickstep blues scorchers are in there, too, like "You've Gone Bitter," as well as the slow burn of "You All Along." Sleepy tries his hand at swing and even country, Hank Williams style, with "It's Only Tuesday."

Like most blues men, Sleepy Ray knows his share of pain -- unlike most, however, he trusts Jesus Christ to help him carry that pain. "And when I thought I could no longer live with the pain . . . You came with the dawn/ Lord it was you standing there all along," he sings in "You All Along." In "It's Only Tuesday," he cries out for the feeling that was with him on Sunday: "Where is the Spirit away from the crowd?" The answer he finds in the title cut: "'Cos where the highway turns, I'll help you to learn about forever/And when the fire burns, I'll be there to turn your pain to heaven." From a style of music long steeped in drunkenness and heartache, Sleepy Ray forges a vessel of joy and healing that lets the new wine of the Spirit flow through.