One of the most diversely talented artists playing bluegrass/newgrass/Americana/roots music today — sporting a broad array of interests and influences, a vast knowledge of several instruments and his four-octave voice.
Ray grew up in a family bluegrass band with his father, Marvin Cardwell, a talented multi-instrumentalist. The senior Cardwell fronted one of the first live music shows in Branson, Missouri, at Jesse James Confusion Hill in the 1960s.
In the 80s, Ray was into rock and reggae. He was working out of Springfield, Missouri, and the Midwest as a musician and front man, keyboardist and sax player. He relocated for a time to Hollywood, California, with the Springfield-based Resonance. He also played saxophone for celebrated songwriter Jack Lee (The Nerves, and writer for Blondie, Pat Benatar and Paul Young).
In 1992 he met some bluegrass enthusiasts from Columbia, Missouri, and started his return to bluegrass with the regional band, Slick Nickel. He moved to Nashville in 1994 as a member of the critically acclaimed, nationally touring bluegrass gospel band, New Tradition. Ray recorded two albums with them.
In mid-’96 Ray left Nashville and moved back to Missouri to raise a family and return to college to finish a degree in music education. While attending Lincoln University, he performed with National Honor Choirs at both Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall in New York City.
As a high school band and choral director, he led students to several national competitions with high markings. While teaching, he also played with an indie band called Squigglefish – a popular rock/blues/reggae power trio in Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks region.
Ray’s return to bluegrass came when producer/guitarist Pat Flynn (New Grass Revival) heard a demo of his originals. After meeting with Pat, Ray decided that it was time to return to his roots. His debut album, Tennessee Moon, produced by Flynn for Pinecastle Records, was received with high praise. Ten songs from the album charted on bluegrass, Americana and folk charts.
“Time To Drive” was the first single from Ray’s sophomore album Stand On My Own, released May 2019. The song debuted at number one on the Bluegrass Today‘s Grassicana Chart and remained on the chart’s top-15 for 37 consecutive weeks.
Also from Stand On My Own, “Alright” debuted at number one on the Grassicana Chart and “Hurricane Rain” at number two before making its way to number one.
Ray’s “Angels We Have Heard On High,” released on Pinecastle Records artists’ CD, A Very Acoustic Christmas, made it to number two on Bluegrass Today‘s Bluegrass Weekly and number three on Bluegrass Today‘s Gospel Chart.
Cardwell is back with a new single, “Born to Do.” The track debuted at #1 on Bluegrass Today‘s Grassicana chart and is part of Cardwell’s forthcoming third album, Just A Little Rain, from Bonfire Music Group. The bluegrass album includes ten new recordings and is set for release on September 25, 2020. The entire collection was produced by bluegrass mainstay and Grascals mandolinist Danny Roberts.
“It’s easy to call an album “newgrass.” If the banjo doesn’t sound quite like Scruggs, if there’s a heavy folk, pop, rock, and/or jazz influence, if songs aren’t about cabins and mama, reviewers, publicists, and even bands themselves are apt to call it newgrass. Ray Cardwell’s new album, Tennessee Moon, fits pretty well into all of those categories, but it also goes just a little bit farther. Cardwell’s soaring lead vocals, energetic melodies, and background in not only bluegrass but also rock and reggae give the album a sound that is reminiscent of classic New Grass Revival records, but still remains fresh and original.” ~ John Curtis Goad, Bluegrass Today
“Tennessee Moon will remain one of 2017’s best of bluegrass.” ~ Mike Smith host and founder of KSMU’s Seldom Heard Music, at 38 years, the longest-running bluegrass radio show in Missouri.
“There’s no arguing about the strength of his voice, a powerful force of nature that can tackle anything he wants to try. When paired with an atmospheric original like “Hurricane Rain,” co-written with Terry Herd, or the plaintive waltz “Movin’ On,” a collaboration with mandolinist Danny Roberts, this may be when Cardwell’s singing would be most appealing to a progressive bluegrass audience. Certainly the contributions of Flynn, Burch, Roberts, along with guitarist Kenny Smith, banjoist Kelsey Crews, and fiddlers David Mansfield III and Adam Haynes do nothing to diminish the appeal of this recording. Listeners whose music collections are comprised of equal parts rock and bluegrass are likely to find pleasure in this release.” ~ HK, Bluegrass Unlimited reviewing Stand On My Own.