Reviewed by Donald Teplyske
An Indiana-based bluegrass outfit, Blue Mafia returns with their sophomore album. Their stealthy, self-produced debut My Cold Heart was a bluegrass highlight of 2013, notable for its creative songwriting, strong vocal execution, clear production values, and fine instrumental balance.
Those elements remain within Pray For Rain, and this album meets the rising expectations that come with a second release. Admittedly, the album didn’t hit me upside the head as My Cold Heart did; that could have at least as much to do with me as it does Blue Mafia.
Dara Wray, who wrote the majority of the material on the previous album, has only three songs on this set. Of these, the title cut (sung by Kent Todd) may be the most complete: the harmonies, a band strength, are especially appealing here, while the song’s loping, change-of-pace gait is appreciated. “One Bad Day” is appealingly dark with “Consider It Goodbye,” a kiss-off song, having a challenging rhythm and lively arrangement.
The quintet’s lineup remains consistent. Cody Looper continues to make a positive impression on the 5, and Todd’s fiddling enlivens many a performance while Michael Gregory’s bass playing is simultaneously solid and unobtrusive. Meanwhile, Dara and Tony Wray share the lead vocal work with Todd while also handling the mandolin and lead guitar.
Mainstays from the Stanley Brothers (“I’m Lonesome Without You” and “East Virginia Blues”), Peter Rowan (“Moonshiner”), and Pete Goble and Leroy Drumm (“I’d Like To Be A Train”) are skilfully presented; these familiar songs may draw some listeners to a still-relatively under-known band, but those already committed to the group may initially be disappointed with this reliance on outside material.
However, it is with these songs that Blue Mafia prove themselves most adaptable. “Moonshiner” explodes out of the gate, “East Virginia Blues” is afforded an arrangement that is fresh and unusual, at least to these ears, and I don’t believe I’ve previously heard “I’d Like To Be A Train” given a female perspective.
Blue Mafia gained considerable momentum with the success of their first release. Pray For Rain should find them appealing to an even wider audience.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald