Lady Wray Brings Sultry Soul on 'Queen Alone'

Lady Wray
Aviva Klein

Lady Wray

The singer also exclusively premieres second single "Smiling," coming Sept. 9.

Lady Wray literally got her hands dirty when it came to recording her new album.

“When you get by yourself sometimes, the dirt will speak to you,” says Wray, a gardening enthusiast who grows flowers and vegetables when she's not cooking and painting. “Playing in the dirt is therapeutic for me.”

The musical fruits of those garden talks are revealed on Queen Alone. The bountiful mix of contemporary R&B and ‘60s/’70s retro soul will be released Sept. 23 through Big Crown Records. Leading the way is the triumphant brass, guitar and drum-driven “Do It Again” about a faltering relationship that’s still hanging on. Wray, who first gained national attention as Missy Elliott protégé Nicole Wray, originally wrote the track for soul singer Lee Fields.

“I had written so many records,” recalls Wray. “We came back and listened to the demo again. I put new music and instrumentation behind it then we decided to keep this one.”

The “we” Wray is referring to are Queen Alone’s producers, retro-soul veterans Leon Michels of Big Crown and Menahan Street Band founder and frequent Daptone Records session musician Tom Brenneck. Together, the trio put together an organic set that takes listeners back to the roots of R&B, from Etta James and James Brown to Michael Jackson. Its 11 tracks tackle everything from overcoming life’s challenges (“Smiling”) and pushing beyond unnecessary drama (“Let It Go”) to her brother’s incarceration (“Guilty”) to simply doing you (“Make Me Over”). Holding course throughout: Wray’s sassy and powerful church-bred vocals.

“You’re gonna fall but you get back up,” says Wray, who calls Atlanta home. “That’s what this album is about. But I didn’t want to do a lot of sad songs. This is happy, soulful with a hip-hop flair that gets back to my roots. You’ll hear my true story with each song. One door shuts and another opens.”

Of second single “Smiling,” Wray notes, “With everything going on in the world, it kind of gets you down and upset. But when you visit your friends and family, it makes you forget all the drama because you're smiling, drinking and laughing."

Listen to “Smiling” here:

Queen Alone marks Wray’s first solo album since 1998’s Make It Hot, whose gold-certified title track peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. The first artist signed to Elliott’s Goldmind label at the age of 17, Wray was also featured on the rapper’s first two albums, Supa Dupa Fly and Da Real World. After a planned second album didn’t pan out, Wray subsequently signed with Damon Dash for a brief sojourn at Roc-a-Fella Records.

Her participation in the Black Keys’ 2009 Blackroc collaboration with Dash found Wray contributing background vocals the following year on the Black Keys’ Grammy-winning album Brothers. Wray next joined forces with fellow singer Terri Walker as the duo Lady. “Terri brought her European flair and I brought my American soulful hip-hop,” says Wray of the group’s 2013 self-titled album. “We just wanted to see where it would take us. But we always had it in the back of our minds that we would still be solo artists.”

Courtesy Photo

Back now as Lady Wray, the singer isn’t letting the ups and downs she’s experienced musically or personally steal any of her thunder. “That’s why I named the album Queen Alone,” she says. “Queen represents strength. I’ve come through various challenges since I started at 17— different managers and production companies, etc.—but I stayed in the music industry.  It’s all about how much you can take. And if it’s your destiny, you’ll fight for it.”

Queen Alone is available for pre-order on iTunes: