Blue Mafia is a relatively new young band based in Muncie, IN, whose distinctive modern sound is centered around the muscular guitar playing of Tony Wray, and the strong songwriting of his wife, Dara. The Wrays have assembled a crack band in evidence throughout their debut CD, My Cold Heart.
Tony and Dara had started making waves in Nashville while living there in recent years. Tony was heading up banjo production at Gibson and working with banjo comic Mike Snider. When the couple moved to Muncie for Dara’s job they started putting together a group, and Blue Mafia is the result.
Cody Looper is on banjo, Michael Gregory on bass, and Kent Todd on fiddle, with Dara on mandolin and Tony on guitar. The band sound is aggressive and contemporary, and their original material lies comfortably within the mainstream of modern bluegrass. Wray’s guitar playing, both lead and rhythm, very nearly leaps out at you from the speakers. It’s intense and insistent, driving everything on the CD. All the contributions from Todd and Looper are uniformly strong as well.
The only guest on the record is Dara’s dad, Dave Denman, a legendary Indiana musician, who sings harmony on two tracks and provides banjo on one.
All but five of the thirteen tracks are from Dara Wray, with the album’s lone instrumental being a banjo tune of Tony’s. Notable covers of Many A Mile and Pretty Polly fit in well with Wray’s songs, which mine the familiar ground of cheating, leaving, dying and praying. The structure and melodies are immediately recognizable as today’s bluegrass, but the female perspective of the storytelling offers an interesting twist.
Blue Mafia features three lead singers, and the contrast between Kent Todd and Dara’s vocal styles especially adds to the impact of their music. Kent’s voice is big, bold and emotionally-charged while Dara’s is more restrained and understated, giving the band a variety of both sound and fervor.
A good example would be the difference between the album’s opening track, Double Talking Woman, which has Kent bending and twisting every note, and My Cold Heart where Dara calmly lays out the story of losing out to another woman. Special kudos to Cody Looper for his banjo on the title track.
Tony Wray contributes lead vocals on two songs, Lonely Teardrops and This Mining Life.
Looper also shines on At’s Right, a new-fashioned banjo number that gives Tony and Kent a chance to stretch out as well. Tony is also a fine banjo player, and Cody mentions on the band’s web site how much debt he owes to Wray’s influence.
This is a strong project from a powerful band. Keep an eye out for Blue Mafia.
My Cold Heart is available from the band at any of their shows and through the many online digital download sites. Radio programmers can obtain a copy for airplay by contacting Dara Wray by phone (615-495-5122) or email.