The first time I saw Robert Cray was on The Old Grey Whistle Test in the early 1980s. Actually, that’s not true.  The first time I saw Robert Cray was when he played bass in the soul review band Otis Knight And The Days who featured in the National Lampoon’s Animal House film that was a cult hit  several years earlier.  It would be many years before I would discover that it was Cray who played that part in the film so I don’t suppose that really counts.  Back to The Old Grey Whistle Test then.  Cray was being touted, with some justification, as the next big thing in blues guitar music.  Presenter David Hepworth joked that he was only 19 but in truth Cray was closer to 30.   Cray will be 64 in August this year but even now he could easily pass for someone 10 years younger.

Playing with Cray tonight are long-standing Robert Cray Band bass player Richard Cousins, Dover Weinberg on keyboards and Terence Clark on drums.  Cray often plays with a brass section but tonight, shorn of horns, it’s down to these guys to do the business.  Opening with I Shiver from 1993’s Shame + A Sin, they get straight down to it.  It’s hard to think of anyone who blends blues and soul as effectively as Cray and his band can; Cousins’ loose-limbed bass gives the song a groove that keeps it out of standard blues territory and while Cray’s guitar solo is pure blues, his rhythm playing is an R&B brass section all on its own.

Cray tells us that he and the band have been hanging out backstage ever since the last time they played here, just waiting for another chance to come back out.  In truth, Cray has been busy since his last visit to Edinburgh, most recently recording in Memphis at the legendary Royal Studios with the Hi Records rhythm section who are responsible for innumerable classics by Al Green and Anne Peebles amounts others.  If Cray’s band have any worries about living up to the reputations of the Hodges brothers then they certainly don’t show it as they cruise through Bill Withers’ The Love That Made Me Laugh.

Poor Johnny mixes things up further with reggae-influenced bass and drums and some subtle keyboard accents from Weinberg. Right Next Door (Because Of Me) from Cray’s breakthrough Strong Persuader album wipes the floor with the recorded version and reinforces the fact that Cray’s songwriting is a strong as his guitar playing.  Chicken In The Kitchen brings back the blues, Cray effortlessly mixing rhythm and lead lines from moment to moment.  A further change of pace is provided by The Way We Are from the new album.  This song sounds like it would be perfectly at home on an Anita Baker album and I’d be astonished if there isn’t a long line of singers queuing up to record it.

You Must Believe In Yourself, Smoking Gun and Time Makes Two take the show home, bringing an evening of tight but never self –indulgent musicianship from Cray and his band to a close.  If they have gone back into hiding behind The Queen’s Hall stage then they are welcome to come out again any time they feel like it.

John Scott

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