This week’s featured band is Ray’s Vast Basement, a musical project led by singer-songwriter-guitarist Jon Bernson that recently released its highly-acclaimed third full-length album, Starvation Under Orange Trees. As we noted last week, and as we discuss in the interview, the project began from pieces Bernson was commissioned to write for a theatrical adaptation of Of Mice and Men, although the resulting songs drew inspiration from characters and themes from many of Steinbeck’s works.
Using Steinbeck as a starting point for his “musical fiction,” Bernson developed narratives drawn from his own experiences as much as Steinbeck’s characters, resulting in a unique and inspired concept album. Musically, too, Ray’s Vast Basement delivers, with refined, beautiful songs blending elements of folk and rock, a fitting soundtrack for Bernson’s tales.
While Starvation Under Orange Trees features a wide variety of musicians, including Michael Zapruder, Nate Query from The Decemberists, and a host of others with similarly impressive skills, the record never feels like a “kitchen sink” jumble. Part of that is likely attributable to the unifying thematic concepts from Steinbeck’s texts, but much of the record’s success is attributable to the artist’s sense of vision as well as his skill as a songwriter, arranger and producer.
In addition to our interview with Jon, the episode features four songs from the new album for your enjoyment.
Your next chance to see Ray’s Vast Basement live in the Bay Area is a great show curated by Playing in Fog in a couple weeks: