Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
The Blues has been the starting point for many superstar musicians. The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton started out as hardcore Blues enthusiasts only to move on to the more lucrative Rock genre. However, Robert Cray, although a guitarist of the Clapton standard, has chosen to remain loyal to the Blues throughout his career.
In tonight’s concert, there is no doubting the dedication to authenticity as the rhythm section, comprising Richard Cousins on bass and Terence Clarke on drums, lays down a tight Blues backing for all of the songs that must satisfy even the most demanding of purists. Cray does not, however, find the Blues to be limiting; although a solid bluesman, he pushes the confines of the genre in a subtle but daring manner.
Cray’s guitar playing shows influences from other genres. The punchy guitar work in the opening number I Shiver has a Reggae tinge while I Don’t Care reflects Mowtown funk. Three songs elapse before the set comes close to a straightforward Blues number. Cray reserves his fiercest guitar solos for the Blues numbers ripping through intense finger work on songs like Fix This and bringing passion to songs that are not always lyrically satisfying.
Cray avoids the melodramatic aspects of the Blues and opts for a storytelling method of songwriting. His stage persona is so down to earth you cannot imagine him with a Hellhound on his trail or going down to the Crossroads to do a deal with The Devil. Cray also steers clear of paying tribute to the Blues greats preferring to concentrate on his own songs.
There is annoying hissing feedback from the speakers at The Lowry but otherwise, the quality of the musicianship cannot be faulted. As a songwriter, however, Cray has limitations. There is the occasional flash of social awareness with the Donald Trump-baiting Just How Low, which, just to make sure the point is not missed, is preceded by jokes about hair styling and a snatch of Hail to the Chief.
But Cray’s stock-in-trade is soulful ballads about unfaithful lovers, heartbreak and regret. When these hit the target, as with his breakthrough number Right Next Door (Because of Me),Cray cannot be surpassed. But one song after another with similar themes can become repetitive and makes the concert one that is appreciated for the sheer quality of the musicianship rather than becoming the emotionally moving experience one might have expected.
Reviewed 16 October 2018 | Image: