On March 1st Forty Below Records released Somebody Save Me, the new studio album from Texas-born soul-blues singer, Sugaray Rayford. On the album’s opening track, “The Revelator,” Rayford forcefully sings, “I’m a freak of nature / I ain’t no honey bee / I’m an unknown creature / The like you’ve never seen.” At 6’5” and 300 pounds, this cigar chompin’ ex-Marine with a voice like a force of nature holds court in any room he enters. Possessing a magnetic personality and an old school vocal style that echoes Muddy Waters, Otis Redding, and Teddy Pendergrass, Rayford is also a stellar dancer with moves reminiscent of the Legendary James Brown.
Somebody Save Me is an ambitious album that slides gracefully between the new blues of Gary Clarke Jr. and Fantastic Negrito, the rock & soul stylings of The War & Treaty, and the vintage Daptones soul of the late Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones, bringing a fresh take to classic sounds.
The album was written and produced by Forty Below Records founder Eric Corne. Best known for his work with blues legends John Mayall and Walter Trout, Corne and Forty Below have also launched the careers of several talented new artists, such as Sam Morrow, Jaime Wyatt, and KaiL Baxley. A number of mainstays from Corne productions feature strongly here including guitarist Rick Holmstrom (Mavis Staples), bassist Taras Prodaniuk (Dwight Yoakam), drummer Matt Tecu (Jakob Dylan), keyboardist Sasha Smith (Sam Beam, Jesca Hoop), guitarist Eamon Ryland (The Happy Mondays) and the horn section from Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Corne recorded the bulk of the record live, and the chemistry of the performances infuses the songs with spontaneity and raw emotion.
The ten songs on the album explore contrasting themes of darkness and light. There is social commentary like on “Time to Get Movin’” “The mansions on the hillside / Look down on homeless camps / While we’re caught in the crossfire / Lookin’ for the exit ramps.” There are several love songs, including two gorgeous soul ballads, “My Cards are on the Table” and “Somebody Save Me”, the Stax inspired “You and I” and the more Motown leaning “Is It Just Me”, “She could bring peace to the Middle East / They’d be ready to sign / Free the worst villain / From the tightest prison / And have the warden waving goodbye”.
The album is full of inspired arrangements with several unexpected twists and turns; like the John Barry (James Bond) inspired bridge of “Angels and Devils”; the wobbly 1950s inspired keyboard solo and lush strings of the title track, recorded with The Section Quartet (Ryan Adams, Father John Misty); and the gospel choir, shape-shifting keyboards and dramatic horns of “The Revelator” which seamlessly blends blues, soul and jazz with a hint of reggae. But at the center, if it all is Sugaray Rayford’s commanding voice, tying it all together.
When Sugaray belts out a song, you not only hear it, you feel it. The excitement in the room is palpable when he takes the stage; he is a superb vocalist and entertainer. His dynamic voice is large, just like the man. With his old school vocal style, echoes of Muddy Waters, Otis Redding, and Teddy Pendergrass can be heard. At 6’5, he is a big man, but he moves with grace and energy. His fluid dance steps will remind you of the Legendary James Brown.