Robert Cray’s released his fourteenth album and gave it the obvious title… “Twenty.” “Twenty” features eleven songs most of which were co-written by Cray and members of his band. Cray and his keyboardist Jim Pugh also handled the production duties. There are no surprises on this record. Cray has established something of a signature sound and format over the course of a distinguished career. It is easy to deride Cray for not being the kind of bluesman some of his contemporaries are. Cray idoes not have the blood-and-guts sound of a Muddy Waters or the abandon and fire of a Buddy Guy. Cray has built a career with slick guitar lines and smooth, polished vocals. That has been the Robert Cray formula. That is pretty much what you get on “Twenty”: take it or leave it.
The title track is the centerpiece of the album and also the big artistic statement. “Twenty” is the story of a man who volunteers to join the military after the 9/11 terrorist attacks but winds up fighting and dying in Iraq. Cray is not making general observations about peace and war. This song is a direct shot at the war in Iraq and George W. Bush. He pulls no punches. This is among the more intelligent of the spate of anti-war songs churned out in the past few years. It is too bad the passion in Cray’s lyrics did not show up in his vocals or his guitar playing.
The rest of the album follows much of the Cray signature format. Smooth vocal, blues-lite guitar flourishes. “Twenty” is the work of a craftsman. It is professional, efficient, and pleasant. “Fadin’ Away” and “My Last Regret” are both solid efforts as is “I’m Walkin.’” There is not a bad moment on the disc. Other than the politics of “Twenty” there is nothing memorable or defining on this album, either.