Robert Cray wowed the crowd with both his jangling guitar licks, pierced by his trademark chords, and his smooth, expressive vocals on "Shiver All Over." An exceptional guitar player, Robert also provides strong, emotional vocals with great range. He rounds things out by being a great songwriter, supplying songs that have appeal far beyond the hardcore blues fans. He can hold, bend, and change a note on his guitar with seemingly little effort. In fact, the one criticism you could make about him is that he has perfected his skills to the point where everything looks almost too easy for him.
Robert worked his way through the heart of his works. "What I Thought Had Just Begun" was a great song about loving and losing far too quickly. With his clear phrasing and emotional delivery of the song Robert really wowed the crowd. He switched the style and pacing of his guitar licks frequently in the song. Jim Pugh on B-3 and then on keyboards added depth and emotion to the song. The crowd really clicked with Cray on this number, cheering and clapping wildly at the finish. On "Anytime" Robert demonstrated quick, expressive fretwork that blended seamlessly with his clear, strong vocals delivered with feeling and a touch of vibrato. Robert punctuated the song, as he did many, with his soaring vocals piercing chords on the bridges.
Robert did a good job blending his previous big hits like "Strong Persuader" with new material. On the former he demonstrated all of his guitar and vocal talents by making his guitar "talk," ring-out, and ripple as he sang with passion. He did a super job of bringing it down soft and subtle at the end, both on his guitar and vocally. "I'm Just as Sad as a Sad Man Can Be" started with Robert playing powerful guitar licks that became increasingly heavier to carry his lament, punctuated repeatedly with a piecing, high-pitched chord that sounded like a wail. Robert finished it off with increasingly higher pitched guitar licks and vocals as he moved side to side with a rousing finish. Once again the crowd clapped and screamed their appreciation.
Some of the wrinkles he gave the crowd were a little taste of Hawaiian slack key guitar, a few rumba licks, along with his usual soulful playing. Robert did a super job of mixing the tempo and style of songs throughout the set and achieved the desired effect of bringing the crowd's emotion up and down as his playing led. Robert is an accomplished performer who has become a great entertainer as well. His ability to smoothly and suddenly change from one style or pacing to another within a song while keeping the main rhythm going has to be seen live to be appreciated.
Robert started to wrap things up with "Such a Bad Influence," a slow rolling and rising blues song where he lamented a woman's hold on him. Jim Pugh's strong, nuanced, slow-rolling B-3 perfectly complemented Robert's anguished vocal wails. Finishing on a positive note, Robert gave the crowd "The One in the Middle," a mid-tempo blues song featuring Robert's great repeating guitar chords along with his older and wiser reflections on the women in his life. Robert's solid band is rounded out with Carl Sevaride on bass and Kevin Hayes on drums. Anyone who wants to see a triple-threat musician at the peak of his powers should see Robert the next time he stops in the Twin Cities.
This review is copyright © 2001 by Rich Benson, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.