Robert Cray needs no introduction; he’s been at the forefront of bringing the blues into the mainstream for forty years, twenty studio albums and a few live releases too. His style of blues has always embraced soul in a big way but you will also find R’n’B somewhere and usually some delicious “roots’ music.
He has a new album out called That’s What I Heard that delivers his trademark soulful blues in both originals and covers.
Opener, Anything You Want is what I’ve come to expect from Robert…smooth soul inflected blues with intelligent guitar informing every phrase. The band behind him is special too with the bass and keys in particular being strong here. The guitar solo is clever in the extreme as he fits slight bends in and picks in a way that makes each note sound almost out of tune…but that takes a master to achieve in the right way. (I can achieve it through incompetence and it sounds nothing like this!)
He moves to a traditional song next with Burying Ground. This was a minor hit for the Sensational Nightingales back in 1956, although they continued to release with various line ups for many years (try their Prayed Too Late album if you want to hear them at their best). Cray’s version is, like the original, slightly harrowing in content but by maintaining the gospel approach the band make a moving, atmospheric and very good version. You’re The One, written by Deadric Malone (who? How about Don Robey, for ‘tis he) and known through Bobby Blue Bland’s version is faithful but different enough to make it worthy…the backing is excellent: the strumming is subtle, simple and effective. Although very much on the soulful side of the blues it has an inescapable charm and, in my humble, would have been even better if Cray had expanded on some of the guitar phrases he uses and put them into a solo.
This Man has a languid but infectious bass line and washes of Hammond to delight and a guitar solo that is clever and inventive…not too many notes and the bends he employs are usually on unexpected notes that makes it entrancing; and listen carefully behind the repetitive chorus as the solo continues with a chord based section of genius. You’ll Want Me Back from the pen of Curtis Mayfield is given the RC treatment with distorted strumming and then keys and horns build the background for the soul to pour out. It is a fitting tribute to Curtis although I must admit that he is, and therefore this track is, far too soul-y for my tastes…the instrumentation is still a treat however. Hot is a nice contrast with the r’n’b swing supported by the trademark strum and a neat drum pattern throughout. The keys add depth and the guitar solos are pure class.
Promises You Can’t Keep was co-written by producer Steve Jordan with Danny Kortchmar and Kim Wilson and is, hurrah! blues with a slow melody that is uncomplicated but oh, so effective. The vocals remain soulful and fit the mood and the picking behind them is first-rate and the solo may not have that many notes but they ooze emotion: a shame it doesn’t last anywhere near long enough. To Be With You starts with phased guitar and builds into a heartfelt love song with acres of soul in every word and the solo echoes it all beautifully. My Baby Likes To Boogaloo by Don Gardner is a lesser-known song from the writer of, amongst many, Need Your Lovin’ which saw covers by Crudup, Korner, and Redding. This is my favourite with its added weight, riff and err…boogaloo. The lyrics may be clichéd but it has guitar, horns, keys and a great bass/drum backline that draws you in…although a quality solo would have been nice. You Can’t Make Me Change is back to soul and a simple but effective chord pattern behind it. The snare rim playing is clever too and is used to great effect and not overdone like many. The solo arrives with great, predominately lower register, picking and a feel that I can only dream about. Little Less Lonely from bassist Richard Cousins with Hendrix Ackle (a talented Swiss composer) has a funky swing to it that gets the foot tapping…another superb solo has picking, chords bends and works so well with the mid-tempo beat.
The final track, Do It, was written by Jack Ashford and Lorraine Chandler who are both, I guess, unsung heroes of the Detroit scene. They did have success with compositions for other artists, the most famous probably being Soul Superman. Do It was composed for the lesser-known Bill Sha Rae who was recording for the Ashford owned Just Productions at the time. Cray takes this unassuming R’n’B/soul song and, as it fades in, takes you right back to the 50s and early 60s with a class interpretation and puts in a simply brilliant guitar solo.
I don’t mind soulful blues but pure soul has never been my chosen receptacle of beverage, and Robert moves in that direction quite often. In saying that, there is no doubting his prowess on the guitar or that he has a band of immense talent behind him: there is much to be enjoyed on this well-produced and crafted album.
Bluesdoodles rating: Wonderful a must for Robert Cray fans, he’s true to soulful type
- Anything You Want (Robert Cray)
- Burying Ground (Traditional)
- You’re The One (Deadric Malone)
- This Man (Cray)
- You’ll Want Me Back (Curtis Mayfield)
- Hot (Cray)
- Promises You Can’t Keep (Steve Jordan, Danny Kortchmar, Kim Wilson)
- To Be With You (Cray)
- My Baby Likes To Boogaloo (Don Gardner)
- You Can’t Make Me Change (Cray)
- Little Less Lonely (Richard Cousins, Hendrix Ackle)Do It (Jack Ashford, Lorraine Chandler)
Robert Cray: guitar, vocals
Richard Cousins: bass
Dover Weinberg: keyboards
Terence F. Clark: drums
Steve Jordan: drums, percussion
Robert Parker Jr: guitar on Do It
Steve Perry: vocals on Promises You Can’t Keep
Produced bySteve Jordan