Robert Cray Smokin' Gun Blues at Cadogan Hall

Robert Cray Smokin’ Gun Blues at Cadogan Hall

Robert Cray Smokin' Gun Blues at Cadogan Hall. No one that gets close to Robert Cray as a singer & guitarist.  A brilliant evening.

Ageless Master of Contemporary Blues Robert Cray plays Cadogan Hall, London, 11 May 2022

Robert Cray Smokin' Gun Blues at Cadogan Hall

What can you say about Robert Cray? He is the ageless master of contemporary blues whose standard of songwriting, playing and performance are at an elevated level of excellence that very few musicians will get anywhere close to.    As someone who has been buying his albums ever since “Smokin’ Gun” was out on the airwaves (those were the days), I can testify from the stack of his CDs in my collection (not forgetting vinyl versions of the early ones) that this superb musician has a vast catalogue of material to select from.

For this performance, the sell-out audience, on the first of two nights at this primarily classical concert venue, were treated to 16 prize cuts from the blues repertoire.  The aforementioned classic wasn’t among them, but several other audience faves were interspersed among newer and less well-known numbers.  To be honest, the consistently high quality of his material means that all the numbers were excellent, some were just a little more familiar.  One of those “Right Next Door (Because of Me), played towards the end of the set, is, in my opinion, as much a classic blues standard as something like “Smokestack Lightning, and illustrates the difference between Robert Cray and most of his contemporaries.  Instead of the leering, self-congratulatory approach to relationships often seen in blues or rock songs, the lyrics display a sense of mature awareness of the damage done by a casual affair and the ensuing guilt.  A lot of his songs similarly contain thoughtful lyrics that address subjects far removed from the norm.

Having said that, the selection of the set seemed to be aimed at highlighting the slick, rhythmic grooves that underly many of his songs. One of the things that really hit home on the night, despite having seen him several times over the years, is what an absolutely brilliant rhythm player he is.  The crystal clarity of his playing over changes of pace and attack in songs, while singing in that soulful smooth vocal tone was just breathtaking.  His lead playing style is of course uniquely his, the spiky, biting lead lines and flowing solos were magisterial.  While the songs were selected from a number of albums, there was a focus on recent material, in particular his most recent studio release, 2020’s excellent “That’s What I Heard”.  The opening number of the night “Anything you want” (also the opening number on that release) established the upbeat feel, which continued with “Where Do I Go from Here”, a song from the “Bad Influence” album.  Despite a nearly 40-year gap between these numbers being recorded they sounded like they could have been recorded together, such is the timeless nature of his writing and playing.     

The acoustic quality of the hall, not to mention the friendly but authoritative stewards (who refreshingly enforced a no videoing policy) ensured the focus was on the music and I don’t think I have ever been at a gig where each individual instrument was so distinctly clear. The sound quality was excellent. The four-piece were tighter than an old pair of suit trousers and long time bassist Richard Cousins kept it simple but suitably funky while maintaining an unbreakable bond with drummer Les Falconer, who was a powerhouse with a light touch at the back of the stage.  Dover Weinberg on keys filled out all the spaces with subtle additions, moving between organ, electric keyboards and synth.  One song that stood out mid-set was a cover of Magic Sam’s “You Belong To Me”, which surprisingly created an outbreak of dancing in parts of the hall. 

Robert Cray Smokin' Gun Blues at Cadogan Hall

The evening closed with two encores, an old classic “The Forecast (Calls for Pain)” from 1990’s “Midnight Stroll” and “Times Makes Two” from the “Time Will Tell” album.  The latter was, for me, the highlight of the night.  The sensitive playing on this slow, burning blues number was just perfect.  There is just no one that gets close to Robert Cray as a singer and guitarist.  A brilliant evening.

  • Robert Cray Smokin' Gun Blues at Cadogan Hall
  • Robert Cray Smokin' Gun Blues at Cadogan Hall
  • Robert Cray Smokin' Gun Blues at Cadogan Hall
  • Robert Cray Smokin' Gun Blues at Cadogan Hall
  • Robert Cray Smokin' Gun Blues at Cadogan Hall

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