By Pati deVries. Photo Credit: Andrzej Liguz
Sugaray Rayford is back with In Too Deep, a modern take on retro-soul that explores the themes of love, loneliness & pertinent social issues of today. This collection of poignant material will drop via Forty Below Records on March 4, 2022. To whet the appetite, he has released the video for "Invisible Soldier".
A chance meeting in Memphis in 2018 laid the groundwork for a unique musical partnership between soul-blues powerhouse Sugaray Rayford and producer, songwriter Eric Corne. Combining classic soul melodies with funky R & B grooves, raw blues power, and mashed-up with modern sensibilities, the pair's first collaboration, Somebody Save Me, earned Rayford a 2020 Grammy nomination. Later that year, Rayford took home Blues Music Awards for 'Soul Blues Male Artist' and 'B.B. King Entertainer of the Year.'
The summer of 2021 took things further, with the release of the adventurous new single "Homemade Disaster." The song found its home on multiple retro-soul and new blues playlists on Spotify, with PopMatters declaring that the track "will appeal to fans of Gary Clark Jr. and Chicano Batman."
Now they are back with In Too Deep, Rayford's second full-length effort for Forty Below Records.
The album opens with "Invisible Soldier," a song inspired by Rayford's struggles with insomnia from PTSD. The track serves as a reminder that our cities and communities are full of veterans struggling with the aftershocks of war and how it's invisible to most fellow citizens because they're in plain clothes.
Rayford, a 10-year Marine, explains, "I shared with Eric some of what I was going through, and he asked me what I thought about putting it in a song, and that's where "Invisible Soldier" and "In Too Deep" came from. I wanted to sing about social issues as well as just general feelings of love and loneliness and everything in between."
Rayford is a dynamic performer known to put his band through its paces with abrupt feel and style changes. Rayford thrives on funky up-tempo grooves, as evident in another standout song, "Miss Information," which has already received airplay on BBC2's The Blues Show with Cerys Matthews. The song explodes out of the blocks with African flavoured horns and percussion on top of a Farfisa organ, wah-wah guitar, and layered harmonies. Rayford delivers a tour de force performance like only he can, making some heavy points while keeping it fun.
In "Please, Take My Hand," Rayford raises the voices of generations who've struggled and persevered with love in the face of oppression, accompanied only by a spare bass drum, handclaps, and cowbell.
Rayford reveals a whole other side on the soulful and sensual "No Limit to My Love," expressive orchestral harp, horns, flutes, and strings along with some of the funkiest lead guitar this side of Bobby Womack, courtesy of Eamon Ryland. It could fit just as easily next to Silk Sonic as Bobby Blue Bland.
"Golden Lady of the Canyon" is a lush soul-country flavoured ballad infused with strings, horns, and Stax-style guitar work by Mavis Staples' bandleader Rick Holmstrom. Rayford's soulful croon rising and falling plaintively; it's sure to please fans of the title track from his Grammy-nominated album, Somebody Save Me.
While not mentioned directly, you can view many of the songs through the lens of the pandemic. Such is the case with the Jackson 5 reminiscent, Gospel tinged "Gonna Lift You Up"; "Outta breath/Outta luck/The mountain's steep/And you feel stuck/Don't be broken-hearted/The world is just in flux/Keep on movin’/Don't ever give up/Gonna Lift You Up."
Corne's production paints unique vignettes with each arrangement to suit the mood of the lyric and Rayford's deft interpretations and portrayals. Corne enlisted some serious heavyweight friends to help him orchestrate the strings and horns on the record, with violinist Eric Gorfain (Dionne Warwick, REM) and from Rayford's current band saxophonist Aaron Liddard (Amy Winehouse), respectively. Also on hand are three mainstays of Corne's studio work, Taras Prodaniuk (Lucinda Williams), Matt Tecu (Jacob Dylan), and Sasha Smith (Priscilla Ahn,) along with Rayford's live Musical Director Drake "Munkihaid" Shining.
At his core, Sugaray Rayford is a galvanizing uniter. His live shows are wild dance parties. Some conversations may be had, and some self-reflection may occur, but people leave feeling a sense of joy and togetherness at the end of the day. This shines through on the album's closer, the slinky, funky "United We Stand." Then, as the album fades, Rayford takes us home with concert banter and good vibes, a feeling that lingers, tempting the listener to hit play again.