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Robert Cray Band - Nothin But Love

Mascot Records / Provogue

10 songs; 49:23 minutes; Splendid

Styles: Modern, Smooth Electric Blues; Soul Blues; one Rock and Roller

As a writer, radio DJ, and promoter of live music shows, my working presumption is this: there will be first-timers in the audience, especially baby-boomers who are looking for the musical sounds of their 1960s-70s teenage years and who can't find anything in contemporary commercial radio with the same power, soul, or feel. If you are “new” to the Blues and/or Robert Cray, consider this in relation to his 16th album release. World History is filled with the rise and fall of empires. The young and hungry, full of inspiration and with a fire in the belly, take over. After gaining success, they eventually become fat, lazy and comfortable and lack the original verve of their youth.

If you are new but curious about Robert Cray, go back to his earliest recordings to begin your introduction, seeking especially his fourth album, the 1986 Grammy Award winning “Strong Persuader.” Check out his earliest works first and then continue on to his later stages that have turned into Blues-lite. Gone are the late 1970s hard charging days of touring the Northwest with the Robert Cray Band and collaboration in the Cray-Hawks with Curtis Salgado on lead vocals and, often, with a young Tim “Too Slim” Langford sitting agog in the audience.

To be fair, newbies should become aware of Cray’s incredible stature at the relatively young age of 59. When it comes to household names of living Blues artists, Cray would rank third behind BB King and Buddy Guy. He is a five time Grammy award winner with 15 nominations who has sold millions of records worldwide and performed thousands of sold-out shows. In 2011, Cray was inducted to the Blues Hall of Fame and today performs at the largest and finest venues, most recently at the Grand Theatre at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno NV, which is an 1,800 seat venue with the “world’s largest indoor stage.”

Befitting his stature, this ten-original-songs-CD is a full production album complete with Cray’s guitar work front and center, strings, horns, Kevin Shirley producing and the finest studio attributes. The nucleus band is the Robert Cray Band members: Jim Pugh – keyboards, Richard Cousins – bass, and Tony Braunagel – drums. Thematically, the lyrics are Cray’s familiar territory of examining the triumphs, tribulations, and foibles of love and life. Song titles such as "Sadder Days," "Fix This," "I'll Always Remember You," "Won't Be Coming Home," and the title track feature Cray’s potent broken-relationship stories. Robert’s vocals are in his latter day style of safe and controlled but definitely tasteful. Newbies looking for raw blues, heavy rock, or butt-kicking Blues should not expect to find it here.

Our first spin on the Friends of the Blues Radio Show was an upbeat 50s style Rock and Roller “Side Dish” with humorous food allusions. It is atypical of the rest of the album, but a guaranteed winner with listeners.

Headed for late night airplay is “I'm Done Crying.” It’s a slow, soul-soaked eight minute plus ballad with strings, which finds Cray in contemporary political and economic territory. The unemployed male protagonist, who has had his home foreclosed and his job outsourced, experiences an added blow of today’s illogical anti-unionism. Jeff Bova’s added strings quietly emphasize the narrator’s lowest point and then fade away leaving just Cray's poignant voice. At mid-song comes one of the guitarist's patented solos that feels like pain personified. But, the denouement is this: he retains his dignity "because I'm still a man."

If you are new to the Blues, know this: we do not have to all like the same things. Actually, a lot of the fun is good-naturedly arguing about what is good Blues and what is not. Perhaps you are looking for some nice, safe music to play for Thanksgiving dinner guests. Even your mother-in-law should like this CD. Later, when she and the turkey are gone, you can break out the Wild Turkey and delve into the older stuff.

Reviewer James "Skyy Dobro" Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ, Master of Ceremonies, and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show "Friends of the Blues" can be heard Saturdays 8 pm - Midnight on WKCC 91.1 FM and at in Kankakee, IL.

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