Sugaray Rayford is a name that rolls off your lips like the red carpet. Say it for yourself. It is a big-time name that seems fit to be adorned in lights on a marquee in Chicago or New York. Rayford certainly is a big-time person, with a grand 6-foot-5-inch frame and a bellowing voice that mixes parts of Teddy Pendergrass, Muddy Waters and Gregg Allman. “Southside,” his newest release from NimoySue Records, is a record that takes Rayford’s soul and blues talents and injects them with the glamorous sensibilities of a big city.
“Everyone knows when you want to have a good time/ Make your way to the south side of town,” croons Rayford in the bluesy opener “Southside of Town.” Rayford knows where everything that is hip and cool and the titillating keyboards of Leo Dombecki and the big band brass of Allan Walker (saxophone) and Gary Bivona (trumpet) lead you through the alleys to the southside, where Rayford and singers Jade Bennett, Zara Davis and Rachele Quiogue greet you with their hearty vocals.
But the night doesn’t officially start until the soulful, glitzy funk of “Miss Thang” is blaring. It struts with the swagger of a main event boxer entering the ring in Madison Square Garden. The bright lights of the city shines on guitarist Gino Matteo as he delivers a commanding performance among the towering horn blasts.
Rayford is a formidable presence on the album his vocals are rich with emotion. On the remorseful “Live To Love Again,” his heartache is palpable and the acoustic “Take It To The Bank” shows Rayford’s vocal power can be felt in a stripped-down setting, even if the tune’s recording quality and overall impromptu sound doesn’t fit coherently within the album. Rayford’s most impressive performance on the album, which is also the band’s most menacing, is the electric “Texas Bluesman.” Rayford boasts about his Texas roots in a raw snarl and the band matches his intensity with a gritty blues scale. Everything and everyone is bigger in Texas, Rayford being a prime example.
The grooves on the album are rooted in a keen understanding of soul and blues music, though Rayford doesn’t take his knowledge much further by creating something unique to him. “All I Can Think About” and “Take Away These Blues” offer nothing that hasn’t been heard on thousands of blues albums and “Call Off The Mission” lacks any real bite despite its slick hook. As “Southside” progresses toward the seductive “Slow Motion,” which acts as the album’s appropriate night cap, it feels as if Rayford has left the bustling hum of the city for the plain comfort of the suburbs.
“Southside” certainly supports the acclaim Rayford has received and only adds to his impressive career. In addition to his solo career, Rayford also is the lead vocalist in the award-winning Mannish Boys and was nominated for the Blues Music Award’s B.B. King Entertainer of the Year honor. As he continues to record, there is only hope he adds a little more personality to the blues tradition he faithfully continues. He is a big man so there should be plenty to go around.
Release: May 19, 2015
Label: NimoySue Records
Notable Tracks: “Miss Thang,” “Texas Bluesman”