The passing of B.B. King didn’t just mean the loss of one of the seminal guitarists of blues history. It also entailed the loss of one of the great blues voices – deep, rich and resonant – and the touchstone for a particular blues style, with a warm, jazzy, big band feel. It’s comforting, then, to find that a band leader and singer like Sugaray Rayford aspires to similar vocal and stylistic capabilities.
On Southside Rayford, together with his bass player and writing partner Ralph Carter, opens up with a couple of tracks that are right in the BB vein. ‘Southside Of Town’ and ‘Miss Thang’ are steady, relaxed, rolling numbers, characterised by Rayford’s deep timbre and quality phrasing, classy horns from Allan Walker on sax and Gary Bivona on trumpet, and some stinging lead guitar fills from Gino Matteo. The following ‘Live To Love Again’ inhabits a still more laid back and soulful groove, before Rayford co pull a couple of rather different rabbits out of the hat.
|Sugaray Rayford - taking it easy|
‘Texas Bluesman’ ups the ante with a tribute to the blues greats of the Lone Star State, with Rayford shifting gears and summoning up extra vocal rasp and grit, while Matteo puts his foot down hard on guitar. Then ‘Take It To The Bank’ affects an off the cuff acoustic jam on the back porch, rendered all the more authentic by Bob Corritore guesting on some down home blues harp.
With those songs bringing variety to the mix, ‘Call Off The Mission’ reverts to a Stax-ish Memphis groove, as a frame for lyrics expressing concern about the environment, violence, and armed conflict. ‘All I Think About’ inhabits funkier territory, built around a rolling piano line from Leo Dombecki and brassier horn parts, and with some wah-wah guitar thrown in for good measure as Rayford describes his lipsmacking appreciation for his woman.
‘Take Away Those Blues’ is a slow-ish blues of ‘steady as she goes’ quality, adding little to the big picture beyond a twanging guitar solo from Matteo. But ‘Slow Motion’, rather daringly for an album closer, does what it says on the tin. It may not be a classic, or as intimately romantic as it aims for, but with its hushed, restrained and extended delivery it shows an impressively different slant to their repertoire.
Southside, Rayford’s third album, is a polished take on mainstream, soulful blues, from an accomplished ensemble. But it’s the songs that shake things up, showing more of what Sugaray can do, that suggest the potential for future progress.