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 song writing, 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.
Dara Wray, who wrote the majority of the material on the debut, has only three songs here. Of these, the title cut (sung by Kent Todd) may be the most complete: the harmonies, a band strength, are especially appealing, while the 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.
Cody Looper continues to make a positive impression for the quintet, 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 lead vocals with Todd while also handling mandolin and lead guitar.
Mainstays from the Stanley Brothers ("I'm Lonesome Without You" and "East Virginia Blues"), Peter Rowan ("Moonshiner")d 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 is that "I'd Like To Be A Train" is 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.