When discussing modern blues, it's hard to avoid mentioning Robert Cray. I've managed to do just that for all this time since I've joined Blogcritics about a year ago, but this oversight is going to end right now. It's rah rah time for Mr. Cray.
Robert Cray is kind of like the George Benson of the blues. He owns an outstanding voice for R&B and, as Nick Deriso pointed out last year, can make the blues appealing to even the mainstream crowd, much as Benson was once able to get the masses to listen something resembling jazz. But the most important attribute like GB is, if all else fails, he can always fall back on some of the tastiest, sophisticated guitar playing of his genre in this age.
When Cray hit the big time with that monster LP Strong Persuader back in 1986, he got a the attention of a lot of folks, but the quality of his output that immediately followed didn't wilt under the spotlight. As a matter of fact, I enjoy Midnight Stroll from two releases later every bit as much as Persuader.
Midnight sports an impressive cache of well-written and well-played songs, varying from the rolling bass line of the tough "The Forecast (Calls For Pain)"–which became a moderate hit–to the sassy soul of "Consequences" to the staggered rhythm of "Holdin' Court." Having Al Green's Memphis Horns providing some Stax moods on most of the tracks makes it all the mo' better. And while I can listen to this CD all the way through without skipping any songs, it's that last track I eagerly anticipate.
The song of the same name as the album, "Midnight Stroll" is a blues strut that the underscores the confidence of the narrator about "all the love we're gonna make" tonight as he arrives in his "long black Caddy." Jimmy Pugh's greasy organ provides a solid slab of soul upon which Cray emotes and howls over.
And when it's cuttin' time, Cray delivers. That urgent guitar solo is a sublime mashup of two of his biggest influences: Albert Collins and Hubert Sumlin. It's a stew of styles that you won't hear from any other guitarist and what makes Cray not just a good imitator of some other well-known guitarist; he is reverent to the old masters but he's wholly his own man.
Right before the song fades out, Cray can be heard cooing "I've got the top down/I've got Howlin' Wolf on the radio." For a bluesman, that means life is good. Where Robert Cray is concerned, it's all good.
Listen: Robert Cray "Midnight Stroll"
"One Track Mind" is a more-or-less weekly drool over a single song selected on a whim and a short thesis on why you should be drooling over it, too.