Sugaray Rayford has joined Finis Tasby to become the band’s prime vocalists and brings a contrasting approach with a bit more urbane, gospel-rooted approach to Tasby’s grainy, laconic style rooted in the blues of the southwest. Back on guitars are Frankie Goldwasser and Kirk Fletcher, and Delta Groove chief Randy Chortkoff on harmonica with Willie J. Campbell on bass and Jimi Bott on drums. then there is a fair amount of guests including appearances by James Harman, Mud Morganfield, Jackie Payne and Mike Finnigan on vocals; Elvin Bishop, Nathan James, Kid Ramos, and Junior Watson on guitar; James Harman, Bob Corritore, Rod Piazza, and Jason Ricci on harmonica; and Ron Rio, Mike Finnigan, Rick Wenzel and Fred Kaplan on keyboards.
The music on the two discs are traditionally rooted in some classic blues themes and grooves but the covers here never are simply copies. For one thing, instrumentation varies from the original recordings and if for example Finis Tasby’s rendition of Mean Old World is derived from Little Walter’s recording, employment of Elvin Bishop’s slide guitar gives it its own flavor. Sugaray shouts out Son House’s Death Letter on the first disc entitled Atomic Blues with Jimi Bott powering the groove as Goldwasser plays some Muddy Waters on steroids styled slide. His vocal delivery is much more relaxed on Bricks on My Pillow with Goldwasser swinging a bit on guitar her while Rob Rio boogies the ivories. Jackie Payne does a nice job singing a Muddy Waters medley of She’s 19 Years Old/ Streamline Woman, with more fine piano, Rod Piazza wailing on harp and Goldwasser sounding strong. Mud Morganfield conjures up his father on Elevate My Mama and Mannish Boy, with the latter modeled closely on Muddy’s version with Johnny Winter. Bob Corritore adds choice harp here. Chortkoff contributes an idiomatic Chicago blues-styled shuffle that Sugaray delivers vocally and Kirk Fletcher rips off a fiery solo. Goldwasser is featured on slide and vocals on Johnny Littlejohn’s Bloody Tears.
The second disc, Rhythm & Blues Explosion continues the fun and solid idiomatic performances. Born Under a Bad Sign sports a strong tasby vocal and searing Elvin Bishop guitar while Sugaray and and Cynthia Marley share the vocals on James Brown’s You’ve Got the Power, which has a crackling solo from Nathan James and solid horns in the backing. Another Albert King cover Drowning on Dry Land finds Fletcher having a bit of King in his tone behind Sugaray’s vocal. King also recorded James Brown’s Cold Sweat for Stax, and it is some of the inspiration for this Kirk Fletcher feature with Mike Finnigan on organ and Goldwasser adding some churning rhythm guitar while Bott gets the funky groove down. Finnigan on piano and vocals does a fine job on Ray Charles’ Mr. Charles Blues, with Fletcher in a jazzier mode here. Songs like Jimmy McCracklin’s Later On are particularly fine vehicles for Finis Tasby with Nathan James taking a torrid solo.
The remainder of the 26 songs are similarly potently performed and while there are mostly covers, few would be considered heavily recorded. To Scott Dirks suggestion that the Mannish Boys are a virtual blues festival, I suggest Double Dynamite is a virtual All Night All Star Blues Party.
I received my review copy from Delta Groove. Here is a video featuring finis Tasby singing. There are videos on their website, http://www.themannishboys.com/.