The Robert Cray Band

Review Date May 5, 2014

Review By Simon Redley

Location Birmingham Town Hall

Robert Cray is one of the most successful blues artists of the last four decades. Selling in excess of 20 million albums, a five time Grammy winner and 15 time nominee, he has no trouble getting bums on seats when he tours. The Robert Cray Band were back here for a 13 date 40th anniversary tour in May, and I caught their Birmingham Town Hall gig. All images credited to Simon Redley Robert’s childhood friend Richard Cousins alongside him on bass, Hammond and keyboard player Dover Weinberg and drummer Les Falconer are in his corner too. They are out there promoting his new record IN MY SOUL which dropped just over a month ago. The band played six of the 11 tracks from the CD, his 17th studio album, at the Birmingham show. The 15-song set list for the third date on their UK tour, gave the close to sell-out crowd everything they wanted to hear, apart from notable missing in action track, “Smoking Gun.”But we did get the classic “Right Next Door,” four songs in. His vocal chops are sounding as strong as back in the day, after 40 years of doing his thing, and always putting 110% emotion and passion into his singing and his playing on every performance. His playing still spine tingling, and like BB King, Stevie Ray Vaughan and a handful of other legendary guitarists, when he plays, you always know it is him. That cutting tone, those sweet soul licks, that biting attack. It’s all intact. No smoke, no mirrors, no fireworks, a plain black backdrop, a couple of pretty lights shone on top. The Robert Cray Band need no gimmicks. It is all about the music, and above all else; the feel. The star of the show for me tonight was Robert’s flippin’ amazing voice. His is a sweet soul marvel, a gift. His phrasing is so innate and natural. He also knows how to write or choose material that gives him a perfect vehicle for that voice to shine. Wearing a baggy white shirt outside a pair of black trousers, and his trade-mark sandals and bare feet. Richard Cousins by his side, stage right. They kick off with “Won’t Be Coming Home,” from the 2012 album “Nothin But Love,” and then “Poor Johnny,” from 2008’s “Twenty.”Another taken from the 21012 release is “I’ll Always Remember You,” and he is in fine voice. €œRight Next Door,” from the hit 1991 album “Strong Persuader,” sounds superb on the Sunburst Strat’ he changes to, and there’s a neat trick at the end of the song when he and the band fade themselves out, like on a record. For me, the inventive bass line on the original record from Richard makes this track, and tonight it is exactly as on the recording. He introduces us to his comrades, Cousins getting the loudest applause, before swapping back to the silver guitar for the 2008 track “It Doesn’t Show.” We wait until song six for anything from the new album, and it starts with the opening track, “You Move Me,” before the superb soul tune “Fine Yesterday,” also a new one. His vocal phrasing on the 1993 cut from “Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark,” the excellent “Don’t You Even Care,” is sizzling. He gets the first applause of the night for a guitar solo on that song. He squeezes every last ounce of emotion out of the neck of the guitar and from his vocal. They launch into the excellent “In My Soul,” album track “I Guess I’ll Never Know,” with Les singing harmony backing vocals. €œI Shiver,” taken from the 1996 release, “Shame + A Sin,” features some lovely brush strokes on piano and Hammond B3. An instrumental co-written by Robert and his pal of 45 years Richard Cousins, “Hip Tight Onions,” is a cheeky tribute to Booker T & The MGs, and their tracks “Hip Hug Her,” “Time Is Tight,” and “Green Onions.” “What Would You Say,” is also taken from the current album, on which he replicates a sitar sound on guitar. The final song is “Forecast Calls For Pain,” from the 1993 album “Midnight Stroll.,” Then the four join arms and take a bow to a standing ovation. The set list offers two more songs as an encore. We get another track from the current album, “Deep In My Soul,” a staple in the set list of the late great soul and blues singer Bobby “Blue” Bland, and then “Blues Get Off My Shoulder,” a tune from his 2012 album. I personally would have liked a couple of incendiary up-tempo numbers to be sent off into the driving rain to. For every second of that 90 minute set, it was pure class from a timeless artist who just gets better. A real quadruple “threat,” as a guitarist and a singer to die for, a versatile songwriter and a performer who digs deep into his soul every time.

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