Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Sugaray Rayford - Somebody Save Me

Onstage, Sugaray Rayford puts on a bonkers live show, befitting his status as a Blues Award nominee for BB King Entertainer of the Year.  His latest album Somebody Save Me though, is a different proposition.  It’s entertaining, sure, but in a different way. This is an album that takes classic blues and soul stylings, and shapes them into something teasingly modern.  In short, Somebody Save Me is cool.
If Sugaray Rayford’s vocal talents are the substantial hook on which the album is hung, much of the credit must also go to Eric Corne, who not only produced it, but also wrote all the material.  On the writing front, Corne taps into the roots, but with the arrangements and the sound he conjures up an adventurous undercurrent, akin to the modern vibe that fellow
Sugaray Rayford - Big man, big voice, big personality!
Pic by Eric Sassaman
knob-twiddler Dangermouse brought to The Black Keys.
It’s there on opening track ‘The Revelator’, a hefty chunk of blues-soul with a hint of hip-hop around the margins.  There’s a rolling, low-end riff, and splashes of keyboards from Sasha Smith, over a nagging, restrained beat, while Sugaray gets down to business with a tough vocal, proclaiming that “I’m a freak of nature, I ain’t no honey bee-ah!”  And it’s all topped off with horns – which feature on 7 out of 10 tracks – and some choral backing vocals.
The edginess is there too on the likes of ‘Angels And Devils’ and the closing ‘Dark Night Of The Soul’.  On the former there’s eerily discordant Hammond organ creating atmosphere, with more classic guitar promptings from Rob Holmstrom, who deploys some extra twang to add to the ambience.  On the latter, Rayford sings it straight to a classic soul-blues sound that’s twisted a moody fraction out of shape by a blend of deep bass and sax, plinking piano, scratchy guitar fills from Eamon Ryland, and flashes of harp from Corne.
‘I’d Kill For You, Honey’ also has that vague sense of something lurking in the shadows, courtesy of a rumbling riff from Ryland’s slide guitar, Corne’s injections of harp, and Wurly piano from Smith.  And if Rayford is singing a classic tale of a man driven to distraction by his woman, and the melody also has echoes of songs gone by, he’s Wolfishly urgent in his delivery of lyrics that don’t rely on well-worn clichés.
But let’s not get carried away by all this critic-pleasing modernity, eh?  ‘Time To Get Movin’’ is a simple but hugely effective traditional R’n’B outing, with a classic blues guitar riff from Holmstrom over a shuffling rhythm, while the sonorous, BB King quality of Rayford’s voice is underlined as he gets stuck into take-no-prisoners lyrics demanding to “Call things by their name – racism, bigotry”.  The following ‘You And I’ is a big, fat slice of horn-laden Stax soul, with a nice weeping guitar tone from Holmstrom, and smart, sharp lyrics.  If I say there’s no more to be said about it, that’s a compliment.
‘Sometimes You Get The Bear (And Sometimes The Bear Gets You)’ is another bright affair, with straight-up guitar work including a relaxed solo, and little fills here and there, juxtaposed with the horns and organ.  And ‘Is It Just Me’ could be a Smokey Robinson Motown offering, complete with “Shal-la-la-la” female backing vocals, except Rayford makes Robinson’s singing sound like a little girl on a tale of a woman capable of working miracles.
There are a couple of slower efforts too, in the soul ballad ‘My Cards Are On The Table’ and the title track, which features violins and cello, and spare sprinklings of guitar. It’s traditional but imaginative, with Rayford delivering an emotional but restrained vocal – think Ben E. King, maybe.
Somebody Save Me may not be a stone cold classic, but it’s still a no-filler, all-killer winner.  It’ll be getting plenty of airplay in this household, and it should do in yours too.  Time to get movin’, and tune into the Revelator!

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