Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Robert Cray: Soul Crayzy

Robert Cray
Robert Cray

When you hear great music, time can stand still. The clock stopped in my house when this one dropped. Legendary guitarist, singer and songwriter Robert Cray releases “In My Soul” - his 17th studio album and one of the best of his lengthy career.

The five time Grammy winner and 15 time nominee who has sold maybe 20 million records, kicks off his 40th anniversary European Tour in Basingstoke on May 2nd, with 13 dates around the UK to 18th May.

“In My Soul” was produced by long-time friend Steve Jordan, who produced two Cray albums previously; “Take Your Shoes Off,” in 1999 and the 2001 album “Shoulda Been Home.”

The new one digs deep into Cray’s soul roots, with an outstanding 10 song collection (+ a bonus track on the limited edition version) of Stax, Chess and perhaps Willie Mitchell’s Hi Records influenced songs. A real Memphis sound. He and the band have penned some impressive originals, and also pay tribute to such musical heroes as Otis Redding and Bobby “Blue” Bland, with stunning cover interpretations.

Otis Redding’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” finds Cray trading vocals with drummer Les Falconer (who Robert had only ever heard sing on the tour bus before!) Robert’s old friend for 45 years, his long-time bassist Richard Cousins co-wrote the Booker T homage, an instrumental cheekily called “Hip Tight Onions.”

When Robert called me from his US home for a chat, he exclusively revealed a slight mishap on that track, the only instrumental he has ever released. “Oh yes. The instrumental…'Hip Tight Onions'. It was the first track we recorded and we played it over and over for 15 minutes. Steve said, OK, I think we got the right feel, let’s cut it.”

“My guitar was really loud and I had not adjusted my head set to hear the guitar through the head set. We cut it, but I didn’t tune my guitar. The guitar got progressively worse and worse and worse, because I was hitting it so hard, playing those chords.”

“We went in to listen to it and Steve said the performance was great. But you’d hear him at the end of that song go “whoaahh,” because he heard the guitar through his head set being out of tune. I said we gotta do another take, that guitar is horrible. He said no man, that performance is great."

“But we went in, did another take and the performance was not as good, so we just kept it. It’s really funny. But it’s all about the performance, and Steve gave me a great lesson on that.”

The album features a stunning version of “Deep In My Soul,” a staple in the set list of the late great soul and blues singer Bobby “Blue” Bland. “I knew I wanted to do a Bobby Bland tune, and I was banging my head as to which one. Then I found one CD with a massive amount of Bland songs on it, and I hadn't heard this one for a long time. I brought it in, and everybody loved it. I didn't want to change it—just do it pretty straight up as a tribute to Bobby, who was one of my real heroes.”

“He came to see us before he passed, about a year and a half ago, he came to a show with his wife and son and just hung out in the wings, and it was such a big honour; really cool."

Steve Jordan added: "We had nine or ten songs recorded, but we didn't really have a deep blues song. I wanted to get that feel, something riveting that lays the gauntlet down. Robert pulled out this song, and I had never heard it before. It was haunting and very deep, and the way he sang it, I got chills. You'd be hard pressed to think you could get as good as Bland did, but Robert gave a really extraordinary performance. Put that one on and you just have to shut up!" Amen to that.

The guys also give us a wonderfully bluesy and emotion-drenched version of the Isaac Hayes/David Porter cover “Your Good Thing (Is About to End),” first recorded by Motown’s Mable John in 1966 and then a hit single for Lou Rawls in 1969.

So the title of the new album “In My Soul” pretty much sums up what Mr Cray and this record are all about then, doesn’t it Robert? “It does. Thank you Simon.” You are most welcome, Robert.

But he has had stick from blues purists over the years, for messing about with the blues as a musical form and injecting other stuff in there, especially soul.

“To me it’s a very fine line between soul and blues. The only major difference is the rhythm of the music. The stories really are similar, if not the same. Songs talk about personal situations, whether they are about love, love lost, hard times in somebody’s life; they are subjects in blues, rhythm and blues or soul.”

Robert laughs loudly when I say that with soul, blues and indeed country records, if you play them backwards, the guy crying into his beer usually gets his wife, kids, job and his dog back!

But Mr Cray says he did not PLAN to make a soul record. “We didn’t have a concept when we were going to do the recording. Steve had come up with a couple of cover ideas before we went in. First was Otis Redding’s ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine,’ and a week later he sent me an email to say he would like to see what we could do with ‘Your Good Thing (Is About To End.’)”

“The rest of the material we as a band brought in about a week before we went into the studio, and it just happened it was along a rhythm and blues and soul line. It is not unusual for us to do soul music, but this one contains a lot more of it.”

“In the early days a lot of purists would say you guys are not playing blues, you are playing soul. As time has gone on, I see a lot more people doing the same thing.”

The Robert Cray Band: “In My Soul” (Provogue) 31st March UK release.

TWITTER: Your thoughts ALWAYS welcome @BluesandSoul | @RobertCrayBand | @provoguerecords ***If we favourite your Tweet, you get it added to the print issue.

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