Last week, we told you about some of the great new blues releases coming out in September, a majority of them hitting the shelves this week. Perhaps our favorite of this most recent bunch comes from one from the best blues singers you’ve likely never heard, in Texas native Sugaray Rayford. Truth be told, we didn’t know all that much about Rayford ourselves until he was featured as a vocalist on the latest CD from blues supergroup the Mannish Boys, Double Dynamite. But that performance itself was enough to put the singer on our radar, so we were of course delighted to learn of Rayford’s debut album Dangerous on the Delta Groove label, which we’re pleased to report very much lives up to – and, in many ways, exceeds – our expectations.
Joined by a collection of guests that range from some of his fellow Mannish Boys to Monster Mike Welch, Kim Wilson, Sugar Ray Norcia, Big Pete, and Kid Andersen, Rayford presents an entertaining and diverse set of blues on Dangerous with echoes of such masters as B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, and Muddy Waters, but all in Rayford’s own rich, soulful tones, one of the best blues voices you’ll hear today. Indeed, when it comes to the ability to offer such a fresh approach on classic blues sounds, Rayford is rivaled only perhaps by the son of the Hoochie Coochie Man himself, Mud Morganfield.
Though the title and lyrics of the opening song may say country, what Rayford brings on the shuffling “Country Boy” is all blues, his booming voice accompanied by the harmonica of another famous Sugar Ray (as in Sugar Ray Norcia) along with some lively piano from Anthony Geraci. Already, Rayford seems to be having quite a good time, which continues on the swinging, funky original “Stuck for a Buck” that follows, complete with horns from Ron Dziubla on sax and Mark Pender on trumpet in addition to some tight lead guitar from Gino Matteo and organ from Fred Kaplan.
From there, the band moves to the gritty and powerful, Randy Chortkoff-penned title track, a sort of modern-day “Hoochie Coochie Man” that again features Norcia on harp and Geraci on piano while Monster Mike Welch helps keep the rhythm on guitar. Norcia sets down his harmonica to help out on vocals for a song he wrote just for this occasion, the clever, swinging “Two Times Sugar” that’s even sweeter with Welch on lead guitar. Rayford’s smooth take on the Pee Wee Crayton classic “When It Rains It Pours” is about as fine a slow blues number as you can get, in the vein of, say, Jimmy Witherspoon or T-Bone Walker, with other covers including a superb “Depression Blues” (Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown) and a soulful, swaying “In the Dark” (Junior Parker) – both again buoyed by horns in addition to Kid Andersen on lead guitar, while Chortkoff blows some nice harp on the latter – as well as the stripped-down closer “Preaching Blues” (Son House) that features the Mannish Boys’ Franck Goldwasser on slide guitar and Jimi Bott on drums and percussion, along with Bill Stuve on acoustic bass.
Those who enjoyed Rayford’s performance of “Death Letter” on the Mannish Boys project will no doubt also appreciate “Pretty Fine Mama” here; with grungy solos from Chortkoff and Welch on harmonica and tremolo guitar, respectively, this and other tracks are every bit on par with the likes of the renowned Phantom Blues Band, while the slow, smoky “Surrendered” could just as easily have come from the catalog of the Rolling Stones (though in fact written by Chortkoff), featuring Goldwasser on guitar and Kim Wilson on harmonica.
Goldwasser switches to slide, again accompanied by Wilson on harp, for the creeping “Goin’ Back to Texas,” later picking up a National Steel guitar for the mid-tempo acoustic number “Need a Little More Time,” where he’s joined by Andersen on rhythm guitar and Chortkoff on harmonica. Big Pete steps in on harmonica for the boogeying Goldwasser gem “Keep Her at Home,” with another of the disc’s highlights coming in the form of the simmering blues and stewing lyrics of “I Might Do Somethin’ Crazy”.
Like its title, this CD is indeed dangerous, but only for other artists who might be looking to stake a claim to the album of the year honors in the coming year’s blues music awards. With blues this powerful, living Dangerously has never sounded more fun!