I always struggled to pin down Raury; his debut mixtape and album came out well before I could appreciate them, but so much happened to him since then that I don’t know if I want to revisit those projects. He was never someone in my rotation, but for some reason I had it in my mind that he made good music. The Stone Mountain, GA native dropped Indigo Child back in 2014 before signing with Columbia Records, making the XXL Freshman list and releasing his first (and only) album titled All We Need in 2015. In the three years since, Raury publicly parted ways with his label, hopped on the Hunger Games soundtrack and popped up now and then with singles or features (like on SYRE). Now and then, it occurs to me he could just be an industry plant.
On 4/20, 22 new tracks appeared on his SoundCloud page. Three days later, they appeared in a playlist titled The woods with each track featuring its own thumbnail image (the one used here is from "In Due Time"). Because the project originally released as a random collection of songs, I skipped around quite a bit and missed out on the traditional album/mixtape front-to-back listening experience. For that reason, I’m going with a list of the songs I enjoyed from the playlist. Included in the notes (on SoundCloud) for most of the songs are brief notes about the meaning of the song as well as instrumental contributors, vocal contributors and recording locations. Without further ado…
In Due Time- This moody, muted track opens with soft acoustic guitar and mildly auto-tuned male vocals. Soon joined by similarly pitched female vocals, Raury, Corinne Bailey Rae and Jaixx lament the difficulties of controlling one’s ego so as not to hurt others (or oneself). Raury handles the verses in a strained but gentle tone while the two female vocalists provide accompaniment and backing vocals in a variety of pitches before the three join forces at the end to harmonize. The guitar persists as the only traditional instrument throughout the track, and it’s a beautifully haunting and solemn work.
Cyanide of Love- One of advantages of The woods is the range from track to track. Nothing feels out of place or forced, but the variety jumps out almost immediately. Compared to “In Due Time,” this song opens with traditional reggae rhythm guitar and drums before being joined by trumpets and some light keyboard play. Raury sounds more relaxed here, floating along with the beat at varying speeds while telling a significant other how he good he’d be for her while also pointing out his other options. It reminds me of “Blessings” by Chance, but with a more textured, interesting backdrop (the backing vocals and ad libs on the chorus) and a quicker tempo. It registers both as a relaxing, island-vibe track and a bit of a love song, which makes for a fruitful combination.
Asstrology- In keeping with the campy pun, this song opens with a cheap-sounding, tinny drum loop and an eerie, moaning electric guitar riff played by Raury himself reverberating in the background. Jaixx again provides an assist with some harmonies on the chorus, and we find Raury doing some surprisingly good rapping on the verses before breaking into half-song for the chorus. He doesn’t go too far beyond his speaking voice on either section while complaining about a tumultuous relationship before acknowledging he would never leave. The spare, minimalist verses contrast nicely with the little duets on the chorus, but the track still comes across as melancholy.
Belarus- Raury gives us another guitar riff on a moody intro that builds into a lighter, airy beat with hardly perceptible vocals. This continues for the first half of the song before Raury steps to the mic and raps a bit in what sounds like his talking voice. The lyrical content touches on the difficulties of love, betrayal, etc. The backing/supporting vocals come from repeated album contributors Adia, Vivian and Jaixx. The track turns out to be a pleasant 5-minute listen featuring some nice live instrumentation from DJ Khalil and his band.
Natural- Raury picks up the acoustic guitar for this track about trying to decide between the multiple women in his life while knowing all along who he truly desires. Alongside soft drums and synths that come and go throughout her verse, Corinne Bailey Rae tackles the same problem from a female’s perspective. The two link for a duet on the chorus, with Corinne’s playful, elegant vocals complimenting Raury’s straight-faced delivery nicely. She then takes on a supporting vocal role as Raury laments the loss of the one he desires before the two duet once more but with elevated intensity. It’s a sneaky good song that improves after multiple listens.
Purple Flowers- Teo Halm gets the nod on electric guitar this time as the track opens with some ghostly vocals before those heavy guitar chords kick in over a chugging beat that picks up slightly for the verse. Raury does more singing here than on some of the previous tracks and does so in a forlorn tone while discussing a young lady. We get some unexpected saxophone after the first verse for shits and gigs, but it works well with the rest of the audio elements.
Wonder- With Tru on the drums and Raury once again on electric guitar and vocals, this song opens with Raury singing slowly over the chords and drums before a slow bassline and some random synths kick in. He doesn’t do much actual singing, but rather some harmonizing and vocal exercises. The linear notes indicate the song is about Raury taking care of his significant other knowing she cannot/will not do the same, and the few full vocals we get seem to be in line with that interpretation. This is one of the slower, quieter, simpler tracks, but it’s a nice moment on the playlist.
I would not call myself a Raury fan, but I still enjoyed this surprise project. Who knows if this indicates a concrete return, but there’s plenty here to enjoy even if this is the last we hear from Raury for some time. Over the playlist’s 22 tracks, Raury demonstrates impressive range as a guitarist, producer, vocalist and rapper. You cannot deny his talent, and it’s good to see Raury back doing his thing.