Robert Cray Twenty

Is it safe for Robert Cray to come out yet? Heralded as the Great Black Hope for revitalising the blues with his 1986 Grammy newsmaker Strong Persuader, it seems he’s been trying to live it down ever since. Fact is Cray quickly embraced the more soulful, Memphis-based sound that marries Stax to Hi, combining vocal gifts reminiscent of O.V. Wright with equal, economical portions of Albert King-flavoured guitar. Not a bad path to choose and one he’s held high for the bulk of his career, despite taking heat for avoiding the mantle he never wanted. Twenty marks another solid release for fans of Cray’s polished vocals and slick, uptown soul-blues — this time adding in an element of jazz. It features a laidback Cray and a polished band with little fanfare, but not one to speak softly without the accompanying big stick, biting social commentary shows itself across topics including the Iraq war ("Twenty”), love turned nasty ("My Last Regret”) or general relationship-busting ("I’m Walkin’”). As smooth and sophisticated as each successive Cray outing seems to be, one can’t help but hold out hope that he’d cut loose just a little more, as he does in this latter track. At the same time, Cray’s 14th release offers another satisfying chapter in a book that’s barely begun to be written. (Sanctuary)