Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ray Bailey's "Satan's Horn"

Satan’s Horn was a surprise debut album by West Coast bluesman Ray Bailey that was picked up by the Zoo label after initially on the Bohemia Music Group. The following review originally appeared in Jazz & Blues Report Issue 199 (March 1995), which I have made a few minor stylistic changes to. Satan’s Horn is available from third party sellers on amazon. Ray Bailey has a more recent recording available, Resurrection, which I have not heard. 

Satan’s Horn is a remastered and repackaged issue of an album originally released on Bohemia Music Organization, a small Los Angeles label. It won the Living Blues Critics Poll for best debut release and this writer was quite enthusiastic about it. Bailey is a Watts native who has played blues and jazz with Lowell Fulson and Jimmy McGriff, among others. Satan’s Horn is certainly an auspicious debut album. For those unfamiliar, a good reference point is of a street-wise Robert Cray, given similar instrumentation and a jazzy attack, although Bailey plays with a harder approach and his songs are structured in a more traditional blues vein. For example, Bad Times, Sad Times, is suggestive of B.B. King’s recording of The Thrill is Gone.

Bailey’s lyrical themes are a bit more earthy and urban centered than Cray’s. Rather than rueful observations of breaking up his motel liaison’s marriage, Bailey’s Saturday Night Special is a boast of his loving prowess. Other songs deal with crack addicted moms (Satan’s Horn refers to a crack pipe), hopelessness (on Cold to the Bone, where he plays acoustic guitar and the band plays sparingly behind him), and other street-level realities. All are originals, with the exception of solid treatment of Tampa Red’s Love Her With a Feeling (here credited to Lowell Fulson).

Bailey is a strong singer who has an unforced delivery and a tasty guitarist, and with this stunning debut now under the BMG distributed Zoo label, it will be easy to find and Ray Bailey will no longer simply be a figure that only some critics and a few other lucky aficionados have heard of.  (With respect to this last sentence, remember this review was from 1995.)

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