Sugaray Rayford is an artist who has been nominated for a Grammy and won multiple Blues Music Awards, including the B. B. King Entertainer of the Year in 2020. He has long operated with one foot firmly planted both in soul and the blues. Some of his previous albums have been very blues-heavy with sounds ranging from contemporary to songs that bring T-Bone Walker to mind. At other times, he leans more toward soul reminiscent of Barrence Whitfield.
His new album In Too Deep finds him working with producer Eric Corne, the founder and president of Forty Below Records, and this one is more of a soul record. While some of it is the soul of Daptone Records, some of it is also the soul protests of artists like Sam Cooke.
The album kicks off with “Invisible Soldier”, an upbeat song with a heavy message. The rhythm is easy to dance to, and the melody is upbeat with a healthy dose of horns. Meanwhile, the story is of someone who hasn’t slept in days and sees the same movie playing repeatedly in his head. You can’t help but wonder if this song was inspired by Rayford’s ten years in the Marines.
If the slow grooves of Teddy Pendergrass are more your style, then “No Limit to My Love” is the song for you. This is the sort of song that ends up in the “baby-making music” category. While Rayford’s shouting is on par with the best soul vocalists, this song doesn’t feature any shouting. Instead, this one features smooth vocals over a melody that features healthy doses of muted organ and guitar. In other words, it’s just a good, old-fashioned love song.
“Miss Information” and “Please Take My Hand” are two very different songs with the common thread of social commentary running through each, and it’s interesting that they were placed consecutively on the album. “Miss Information” features some percussion and a guitar part that would fit just as well in a Curtis Mayfield song. Over a completely groovy melody, Rayford lays down some heavy but succinct lyrics of the state of the world. “Fixin flat tires, and putting out fires before time expires, lobbied by liars. At work in the mire, go cue the choir. Some people have plenty while others are empty.” It kind of brings Funkadelic to mind in that the lyrics can slap you in the face while you dance to the groove.
“Please Take My Hand” stands in stark contrast to the song that precedes it. It begins with the lyrics, “Marchin’, we been marchin’ since we put upon this land.” It’s a fitting beginning because it seems like the sort of song that people would sing while marching arm in arm as a show of strength and unity. The song is made even more powerful by its simplicity. Clapping and stomping (and the occasional cowbell) provide the rhythm for the a capella backing and lead vocals in which Rayford sings about how love should be the rule and other messages of hope.
In Too Deep by Sugaray Rayford is a powerful record that you can’t help but feel deep in your soul. It is a good mix of old and contemporary soul sounds with thought-provoking lyrics.