Sugaray Rayford – Southside | Album Review

sugarayrayfordcdSugaray Rayford – Southside

Nimoy Sue Records – 2015

9 tracks; 45 minutes

Sugaray Rayford describes himself in one of the tunes here as “six foot five, 300 pounds” and he is most certainly a giant of a man in the blues world – literally as well as metaphorically. As the lead singer of the Mannish Boys he has been introduced to a far wider audience than in his earlier career and all the evidence is that he is now on a strongly upward path. This is his third solo release and it builds on previous releases by showing that he is equally at home with the sounds of Memphis soul as he was with Chicago blues on 2013’s Dangerous.  This album was recorded with his regular touring band: Sugaray on vocals, Gino Matteo on guitar, Ralph Carter on bass, Lavell Jones on drums, Leo Dombecki on keys, Allan Walker on sax and Gary Bivona on trumpet.  Jade Bennett, Zara Davis and Rachele Quiogue provide occasional backing vocals and there are guest performances from John Thomas on keys, Bob Corritore on harp, George Pandis on trumpet and Bill Bixler on baritone sax.  Sugaray and Ralph Carter wrote all the songs here apart from “Texas Bluesman” which is Sugaray on his own.

The CD is front-loaded with four outstanding cuts.  “Southside Of Town” is uptempo and sophisticated with Ralph’s strolling bass and the light keys/horn arrangement which reminds you of Albert King’s “I’ll Play The Blues For You” (a song that the band often open with in concert).  However, that is not all the tune has to offer as at the half way point Gino delivers a superb solo that ranges far and wide across the second part of the song.  Raising the tempo a notch Sugaray tells us about “Miss Thang”, clearly a lady who left a vivid impression on him: “You oughta see Miss Thang when she’s walking down the street.  She walks like an old fishing boat in a very rough sea.  I like it when you’re walking to me baby, I love it when you turn and walk away”.  The horn arrangement is terrific and the addition of the baritone pushes the tune along, Gino taking another fine solo.  Probably the pick of the songs here is “Live To Love Again”, a classic piece of Memphis soul with a wonderful horn arrangement and a great hook in the chorus – impossible to stay still when this one is playing!  Sugaray’s voice is great throughout the album but nowhere better than on this one which also benefits from the backing vocalists on the chorus and another exciting solo from Gino.  The horns are absent from “Texas Bluesman” as Sugaray tells us how he sees himself following in the footsteps of the blues heritage in his native state as he namechecks several Texas greats such as Lightning Hopkins, T-Bone Walker, Stevie Ray Vaughan, etc.  It’s a churning blues with appropriately tough guitar and bass backing Sugaray’s strong vocal.

After that opening salvo “Take It To The Bank” acts as a sort of acoustic interlude which sounds as if it was recorded in a bar at the end of a long evening, complete with chinking glasses.  Bob Corritore adds his harp to give a downhome feel alongside Gino on dobro.  “Call Off The Mission” returns to the soulful tunes but carries a serious message as Sugaray decries the hypocrisy of attacking others when “we’re in no position to say we’re wrong or right” – a strong song with catchy horns and vocals but serious intent.  “All I Think About” adds some funk to the mix as Sugaray admits that he cannot get his girl off his mind: “It’s a serious addiction, I think I’m going mad.  All I think about is getting next to you”.  The horn choruses scream Memphis on another strong track.  The pace drops on “Take Away These Blues”, Sugaray’s crystal clear vocal right in the centre of another fine horn arrangement and the album closes on the longest cut, almost seven minutes of moody soulfulness as Sugaray lets us know in no uncertain terms how well he plans to treat his lady: “If you rub my back I sure enough will rub yours.  I’ll bring the lotion, rub you in slow motion”.

With several outstanding tracks, Sugaray Rayford has shown his mastery of the soul blues genre.  This is a very good CD which deserves to get a lot of attention and comes recommended by this reviewer.  Anyone who is lucky enough to have Sugaray passing through their town should book their tickets immediately – he and his band are on fire!

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