Robert Cray Band
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2010, Volume 17, #3
Written by John Metzger
Fri March 26, 2010, 06:30 AM CDT
Now that George W. Bush has crawled back under the rock from which he emerged, Robert Cray has gone back to his roots. Shedding the political overtones that hung over his 2005 set Twenty, he once again has embraced the proclamations of love and expressions of heartache that dominated his early fare. This Time is the 15th studio album in Cray’s catalogue. Although it doesn’t boast any tricks that he hasn’t tried before, it serves as a sterling example of everything he does best.
One of the biggest criticisms that Cray has faced repeatedly is that the derivative sound with which he began his career has never progressed. For certain, This Time follows his familiar blueprint, plucking elements from his usual sources. That’s What Keeps Me Rockin’ could have been lifted from B.B. King’s canon, and wisps of Albert Collins’ output lurk inside many of the collection’s tracks. For the most part, though, Cray surrounds his blues-baked approach with plenty of soulful strutting. Over the course of the endeavor, he manages to draw a line that connects Nat King Cole, Sam Cooke, and Al Green.
In truth, the deficiency that undermines This Time isn’t Cray’s reluctance to forge his own musical path. He might borrow heavily from the past, but Cray nonetheless is quite masterful at appropriating whatever it is that he needs to make his point. Rather, his problems stem largely from a reliance upon material that is far from poetic. Taken in full, This Time stands as a mediation upon the relationship between men and women, and to be fair, there was an attempt to sequence the endeavor so that the battle that is waged goes back and forth before concluding with the uneasy tangle of Truce. Even so, the lyrics penned by Cray and his collaborators are addled with clichés that inevitably steal some of his thunder.
Fortunately, this isn’t enough to ruin This Time completely. Cray approaches the songs with his heart rather than his head. Consequently, he is able to inject them with an abundance of emotion. His vocals are often smooth as silk, but just as effortlessly, they can convey gut-wrenching pain and snarling anger. Likewise, the grooves cooked up by his backing band — which has been reworked since he last strolled into the studio — help not only to establish the mood, but also to provide some emotional heft behind his biting guitar licks. In the end, Cray frequently succeeds in elevating the tracks above their prosaic foundations, and more often than not, this makes all of the difference in the world.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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