Friday, April 17, 2020

A Couple of New Ones

One of the reasons I dove into the blues back in the mid 1980's was Robert Cray.  I picked up Showdown! in a music store where I went to college.....strictly on impulse....and never looked back.  While I liked all three of the artists featured on Showdown!, Cray was my favorite.  He not only played excellent guitar, but his soul-inflected vocals were the perfect fit for me.  I began following his career when he was with Hightone, followed him over to his major label debut (Strong Persuader), and kept up with him pretty closely until the early 2000's, where I sort of lost track of his particular reason for it, I just sort of drifted away for awhile.  In fact, I didn't actually return until his last CD a few years ago, where the Hi Rhythm Section backed him.  After hearing that one, I got back on the Robert Cray bandwagon once again.

A few years ago, Cray began a collaboration with drummer/producer Steve Jordan, who had produced the last couple of albums of Cray's I'd listened to, 1999's Take Off Your Shoes and 2001’s Take Off Your Shoes.  Jordan has also produced Cray's last three releases, 2014's In My Soul, 2017's Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm, and this year's That's What I Heard (Nozzle Records).  Since the mid 90's, Cray has slowly moved toward the soul side of the blues, particularly the southern soul side, and with Jordan behind the controls, definitely on the Memphis side of southern soul.  That's What I Heard is smooth, greasy Memphis-based soul and blues, a mix of covers and originals (five written by Cray).  If you're familiar with Cray's work, you know what to expect.  Vocally, he's never sounded better and his guitar work is as compelling and concise as ever.  It's obvious that Jordan brings out the best in him when they work together.  It's hard to pick a favorite track, but I'm torn between the mournful "Promises You Can't Keep," the gospel-flavored "Burying Ground," and the appropriately-titled "Hot."  Some 40 years in, Robert Cray is still making mighty fine music.

The first time I ever heard Sonny Landreth was while he served as guitarist on John Hiatt's Slow Turning album in 1988.  Landreth also toured with Hiatt as part of his road band, the Goners, and I got to see them perform in Memphis in the spring of '89, when they opened for.........ta daaaa.......the Robert Cray Band.  In the mid 90's, I stumbled across Landreth's South of I-10 album, which remains one of my favorite albums with its mix of blues, zydeco, Cajun, rock, and New Orleans-styled R&B.  Landreth is one of the finest slide guitarists on the planet and 99% of the folks who have ever heard him (he's a regular on Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival.....the shows themselves, and the accompanying DVDs) would agree wholeheartedly.  He is just awesome to hear and to watch perform.

Landreth's latest album, Blacktop Run (Provogue Records), finds him reuniting with R.S. Field, who produced South of I-10 and several of Landreth's other releases from that time period.  This new album features the same diversity that's present on Landreth's other albums......he's always had a restless musical spirit, but he's always blends a variety of styles together seemingly effortlessly....there's blues, swamp rock, Latin, jazz, zydeco, and Cajun music throughout this set, and sometimes most of the styles are mixed into the same tune.  It's wonderful stuff.  Landreth is a slide guitar marvel and a powerful vocalist.  and all ten songs are originals, from the energetic blues of the title track, to the instrumental "Beyond Borders," which combines rock, blues, and Latin rhythms, to the Cajun blues of "Mule" and "Lover Dance With Me" to the jazz-inflected "Groovy Goddess."  If you're unfamiliar with Sonny Landreth's music, Blacktop Run is a great place to get on board.  You will want to hear more, though

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