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.

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