Robert Cray has never been a one trick pony. And with his first release on Ryko, "Take Your Shoes Off," Cray continues to reinvent his niche. Cray has proven with each new release that he will not be labeled simply as a bluesman.
With one quick listen to "Take Your Shoes Off" it becomes obvious that Cray has kept one foot in the old Stax days. Cray is a true soul singer who would gently fit in with any Sam Cooke or Al Green recording. This jumps on you with the track "It's All Gone." The song seems to capture the theme of the album. It is a soul soaked song complete with the incomparable Memphis Horns and some timely guitar fills by Steve Jordan.
The entire album is all about timing. Cray digs into his guitar for some sweet lead work with "Pardon." He plays just enough guitar to keep things interesting, while not over playing every lead. Cray has respect for the instrument. This also comes out in "Love Gone To Waste." This take is very upbeat and filled with great guitar and vocals. The tone that Cray works from his guitar and his voice throughout the song is undeniable. Cray easily summons the tone that defines his music. Plus half the tracks are Cray originals.
Another strong song is "Living Proof." Filled with some guitar that many Cray fans have known to love. Also the sound of Jimmy Pugh's sweet organ work rounds out this great soul song. Perhaps the album contains one weak track with "That Wasn't Me." It is strong as far as the music goes, but it is a slow sleeper ballad.
The album ends with two fantastic tracks "What About Me" and the Willie Dixon cover "Tollin' Belles." These two tracks are what most people expect from Cray -- Low down dirty blues with sweet guitar licks and gritty vocals.
All in all, the album is a fantastic listen. But if you have expectations for a guitar frenzy it isn't for you. If you like great music and like to put some tunes on and do like the title suggests, take your shoes off, you'll dig it.
"Take Your Shoes Off" is all about the "less-is-more" attitude. Cray abandons his guitar based songs to showcase his ultra smooth vocals, sticking true to the sounds of Memphis. In today's guitar crazed blues albums, it is refreshing to hear music instead of a song based around the guitar solo. Cray seems to be happy as a contributor instead of being the focus of the band. But in the end, Cray shines.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Jeff Fields, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.