Robert Cray Live from Across The Pond

A successful "new generation” blues musician with a reputation for writing and producing excellent recordings, Robert Cray got tagged early on as a disappointing live performer. This double CD, his first live record, will change that opinion. Recorded in 2005 at London’s Royal Albert Hall, Cray and his veteran band — Jim Pugh, Kevin Hayes and Karl Sevareid — journey through Cray’s oeuvre of story songs, presenting nuanced and precise performances, building momentum as they go. Cray’s funky amalgamation of blues and pop music is as refreshingly cliché-free now as it was more than 20 years ago. Older songs such as "Bad Influence” and the breakthrough "Smoking Gun,” from 1985’s Strong Persuader, feature contemporary themes that haven’t dated. The infusion of soul and gospel elements to his current musical palette adds depth to "Our Last Time,” making it and "The One in The Middle” standout tracks. Keyboardist Pugh is superb, switching between acoustic piano and organ. Cray’s singing is more confident and daring now, unafraid to soar with his husky tenor to a piercing falsetto wail. His guitar playing style remains the same, featuring bright, concise lines used to accentuate a song’s emotional content, not simply for flash. "Twenty,” the title track of Cray’s last studio recording, is the crowning moment of the show. A soulful lament about a fictionalised buddy lost to war, it makes a statement but subtly, leaving the listener room to enjoy the performance and hear the story. Beautiful and sad. (New West)