Saturday, July 29, 2023

Sugaray Rayford - Trasimeno Blues, Castiglione del Lago, 22 July 2023

“You don’t understand a word I’m saying, do you?” chuckles Sugaray Rayford as he addresses the audience at the Trasimeno Blues Festival, giving them his customary spiel about how “This ain’t a concert, it’s a party.”  I reckon more of them understand him than he thinks, not least because a chunk of them are tourists, and English is often the lingua franca among Europeans from different countries.
Anyway it really doesn’t matter, because they all understand Sugaray’s soul-blues language - 
Sugaray Rayford makes a soul connection
they wouldn’t be here otherwise.  When he and his band crank up the opening ‘Who Is He (And What Is He To You)’, a soul-funk riot á la James Brown, you just know that everyone is on board, encouraged by Sugaray’s calls of “Come on!”
They bring a lighter, Motown-ish touch to ‘Is It Just Me’, but if anything it’s more danceable.  They cool things down a bit with the suitably brooding, strutting groove of ‘I’d Kill For You, Honey’, but only to take a breath before the bright and bubbling ‘Gonna Lift You Up’, during which Sugaray pursues his mission to connect with the crowd by going walkabout among them – not for the last time.  Following that with his take on ‘Bricks In My Pillow’, a song that goes back to Robert Nighthawk and beyond, he achieves his goal of hosting a dance party, with a spot on Memphis soul groove and the embellishment of some wickedly squealing guitar work from Danny Avila.
Dancing gets a bit more tricky with the staccato funk of ‘Miss Information’, with its skipping rhythm and Latin-style horns.  But they get right back on track with long-time favourite ‘Big Legged Woman’, on which Sugaray proclaims that “Big legs, short skirts, are back in style”, shaking it all about himself and encouraging Avila to get bopping too.
They unfurl a more romantic soul vibe on ‘I Don’t Regret A Mile’, with Rayford contemplating all
Sugaray checks that Danny Avila is in party mode
the travels he’s undertaken on his musical journey, getting deep-rooted for a trumpet solo and some wailing sax playing – but along the way, characteristically, managing to take a detour into a playful burst of reggae.  And they get even more into romantic mode with a slowie on which Sugaray reflects ruefully that “The way you used to love me baby, is the way you hate me now”, while a few more solos are shared around.
Rayford takes the time to reflect on the impact of the Covid pandemic and how, despite being a serial award winner, he began to wonder if he’d had just about enough of the music business, until his wife observed that he was in too deep to stop now, inspiring the title track of his 2022 album In Too Deep, a tough and resilient affair.  ‘Invisible Soldier’ follows, like ‘Miss Information’ in a twitchy, less dance-friendly funk vein, but once again an R’n’B oldie restores the party vibe, as they belt out a warmly received ‘Grits Ain’t Groceries’.
Rayford’s playful tendencies are underlined when long-standing keyboard buddy Drake Shining leads the way on their version of Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’, and if Shining’s delivery is slightly tongue in cheek, there’s nothing silly about the way Avila transitions from shimmering guitar backing to a suitably screaming solo.
At the end of the night though, it’s Rayford who’s on stage alone, seated on a chair, as he delivers an a cappellaversion of the song he says is his long time favourite, ‘What A Wonderful World’.  It’s a pin-drop moment from a singer who’s a commanding presence.  Sugaray Rayford may be a genial dance party host, but as a performer he’s also much more than that when he wants to be.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

GA-20 - Trasimeno Blues, Castiglione del Lago, 21 July 2023

Lately I’ve been getting into some rackety stuff.  Less of yer typical blues and blues-rock tropes, and a bit more garage band - a bit more noise.  And with that in mind, Boston trio GA-20 at the Trasimeno Blues Festival was a must-see kinda show.
The venue is a bit incongruous for these guys, mind you – a neat outdoor amphitheatre in the grounds of a Renaissance fortress, rather than a low-ceilinged club with sweat running down the walls.  But when they amble on stage, and get cracking on ‘No No’, the place rocks just the same.  Guitarists Matt Stubbs and Pat Faherty (ain’t no space for bass in this line-up) begin with
Pat Faherty lets the wild cat out of the bagl
capos set way down the neck, and crank out something wonderfully cacophonous to wake up the ducks on the adjacent Lake Trasimeno.
It's not all crackling static energy though, as ‘Just Because’ demonstrates, though there are still warped guitar licks on this dreamy Fats Domino-style ballad, as Stubbs and Faherty swap lead and rhythm.  It’s a vibe they explore again a little later on ‘Dry Run’ – romantic but punctuated by thrusting rhythm and spiky lead guitar.  Fats, of course, is generally tagged as a rock’n’roll pioneer, and while GA-20 like to style themselves as heavy blues merchants, it’s rock’n’roll that I hear buzzing around my ears when ‘Double-Gettin’’ meshes a rattling vocal from Faherty with a jolting, loping guitar motif, while drummer Tim Carman plays with a maraca in one hand, splashing it off a cymbal.
They really hit paydirt though, when they dive into ‘Give Me Back My Wig’, the first of a few selections from their tribute album to Hound Dog Taylor, Try It . . . You Might Like It.  What they serve up here, and on Hound Dog’s ‘She’s Gone’ which follows, is simply, the dirtiest, messiest, most danceable groove you could hope for to get up and shake your tush.  And there’s more where that came from on ‘Lonely Soul’, driven along by an irresistible Diddleying rhythm from Carman, and with a solo from Stubbs that’s wirier’n one of those wire hangers that
The GA-20 boys get down and get with it
used to breed in your wardrobe.  Not to be outdone, Faherty tunes into a guitar tone from The Twilight Zone on the mid-paced outing that follows.  He likes a small-bodied guitar, does Faherty, judging by the two on display tonight, but they’re lean’n’mean beasts that spit’n’squeal like wild cats.
Stubbs relates a bit of their history, playing two-bit gigs and having enthusiastic punters express disbelief that they were playing blues music, and offers the view that “If you don’t like blues, you’re listening to the wrong shit”.  Which sounds like a pretty good manifesto to me, when GA-20 are knocking out the kind of big, ringing stuff and splurges of howling slide that feature towards the end of this set, or the set-closing delight of Hound Dog Taylor’s twitching, screeching ‘Let’s Get Funky’.  This, plainly, is the right kind of shit, ‘cause I like it a lot.
Earlier, Roberto Luti and Luke Winslow-King delivered a rootsy two-handed support turn, with Luti providing subtle colourings on a Fender Strat, while Winslow-King switches between acoustic guitar and a tambourine as well as supplying the vocals.  ‘Out On The Western Plain’ is given a subtle, reflective treatment, with patient, sensitive slide from Luti, and there’s a great sense of rhythm between the two guitars on later songs such as the wicked groove of ‘Peaches’.  Winslow-King’s brings intimacy to the vocal on ‘Farewell Blues’, and plenty of personality to ‘Flash Of Magic’, which has a touch of Curtis Salgado about it.  But as good an appetiser as the duo served up though, I could have done with them making way sooner, so I could get to the rock’n’rolling main course.

GA-20's latest album Live In Loveland was released in March 2023.