Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Sugaray Rayford - In Too Deep

Okay, sit back and relax.  Imagine it’s the late Sixties, and you’re in Memphis – Stax studios in fact.  Isaac Hayes and David Porter have come up with a song – this is before Isaac gets all Black Messiah, mind – and Booker T & The MGs are working up an arrangement for it on the fly.  Or maybe you’re in Royal Studios a couple of years later, with Don Bryant and Ann Peebles trying to sort a new tune, while the Hi Rhythm Section stand by, ready and waiting.  Or maybe it’s not Memphis, maybe it’s Philly, and you’re sitting in while Gamble and Huff are putting together a soulful statement about black pride for The O’Jays – but going easy on the strings.
Sugaray Rayford - the man knows how to get down!
Pic by Robert Hansenne

Can you feel the vibe?  Good.  Don't get too comfortable though, because now you’re ready to enjoy the kind of Southern soul, R’n’B sound served up by Sugaray Rayford on his latest album In Too Deep.
The opening ‘Invisible Soldier’ sets the tone, with its stop-start funky groove, tripping drums, bright horn interjections – and most of all the towering, molasses-rich tones of Sugaray himself.  Maybe it’s a tad energetic for a meditation on inner conflict and the elusiveness of dreams, but the tense bridge with its ghostly backing vocals helps to make the point.  This is the kind of strong soul musical mood that’s carried right through to the closing ‘United We Stand’, with its ‘Love Train’ kinda party-in-solidarity thing, on which Sugaray declares it’s “Time to get on the dance floor” to its foot-shuffling groove.  The cackling encouragement he offers as it draws to a close captures the joie de vivre of a guy who in his live shows – believe me – knows how to get down.
In between, ‘No Limit To My Love’ is a smouldering soul affair with a stuttering bass line from Taras Prodaniuk and twinkling guitar fills from Eamon Ryland, with some swoonsome chord changes contributing to a delicious pre-chorus.  ‘Under The Crescent Moon’ is a strolling, bouncing paean to the second-line funk of New Orleans, with warmly grooving electric piano and a catchy chorus, spiced up by great little bursts of horns and flute.
‘Please Take My Hand’ walks a different path, with a field song vibe based on moaning backing vocals and handclaps.  It’s a simple tune, but weighted with meaning – a magnetic summing up of the Black American experience in just three minutes, that still hangs on to hope, with a committed, heartfelt vocal from Sugaray.  It is, in its singular style, the best thing here.  ‘One’ is a more conventionally soulful hymn to togetherness, mixing the personal and political.  But it still works, with pricklings of strings creating atmosphere under another affecting Rayford vocal.
Is ’Gonna Lift You Up’ genuinely danceable?  Maybe if you can rustle up a St Vitus Dance twitch to go with the busy bass line and Matt Tecu’s shuffling drums, never mind the abrupt horn injections.  Whatever, it’s an upbeat, good-time tune, with a pin-pricking guitar solo from Rick Holmstrom and a honking sax break from Aaron Liddard.
There are other treats you can uncover for yourself - and if you like song-led Southern soul stylings, with a seriously big singer who’s worthy of that tradition, then you really should make the effort.  Maybe In Too Deep doesn’t have all the modern snap, crackle and pop that made its 2019 predecessor Somebody Save Me a real standout, but Sugaray Rayford and his songwriter/producer buddy Eric Corne still deserve a high five for delivering the goods.
In Too Deep
 is out now on Forty Below Records.

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