Friday, October 1, 2010
Artist: Robert Cray
Title: Cookin’ in Mobile
In many ways Robert Cray walks the thin dividing line between blues in the credible sense and blues in the popular sense. While he has found commercial success over the years, I have often struggled to appreciate his artistic methodology many times. The allure of his near Sam Cooke voice pulled me in but the redundant lyrical themes wore me out. So it is with mix emotions that I open each release.
In a blues world where the guitar seems to rule, Robert Cray is a tasty but adequate player. His distinction lies not in the fretwork wizardry that so many rely on but, rather, in the way he melds his voice and guitar playing. The rough edges are smoothed out and the precision is precise. His is a mixture of classic soul vocal lines and pop-blues instrumentation. We all recognize the sound but often, for me, the songwriting is the weak link.
On his latest release, a live album entitled, ‘Cookin’ in Mobile’ Robert Cray has, finally, released the complete album. The band is in the “pocket” and perfectly grooves to Cray’s crooning. The song selection is near perfect: as a record store clerk in the very early 1980’s I bought a 12” vinyl release of ‘’Phone Booth’ which, in many ways, sealed by adoration for the electric blues. Whether it is his cover of ‘Sitting on Top of the World’ or the up tempo, ‘That’s What Keeps Me Rockin’ Cray and band are in fine form on this Vanguard release.
Radio hosts might look at either of the songs mentioned as well as the opening track, “Our Last Time” or “Right Next Door” (a/k/a Strong Persuader). On some level an affection for Robert Cray’s music is perhaps a mandate as a contemporary blues fan… but on the other hand I wish he would, ‘buy a new book’ and sing about something other than, “the back door slam.” But then he didn’t ask… and his success is surely his own hard earn achievement.