Old Soul, Old Shoe

Robert Cray. At the Lobero Theatre, Friday, November 10.

Reviewed by Josef Woodard

Various currents of history run through the veins and fingers of
guitarist/singer (or is it singer/guitarist?) Robert Cray, who has
played the intimate Lobero Theatre a number of times throughout the
years. This time around, his familiarity with the theater created a
site-specific resonance, calling back memories of a visit 20 years
ago when Cray was a young upstart.

Robert-Cray-Web.jpgThat was then, this is now. But now is
also then with Cray, who started out his career playing an already
old-school R&B style and has continued in the same vein for 20
years. His music is an old shoe by now, and one that still feels
good for dancing, actual and mental.

Cray is also blessed with a solid, long-standing band. Drummer
Kevin Hayes and bassist Karl Sevareid make as strong and seamless a
rhythm section as you’ll find anywhere, and keyboardist Jim Pugh
plays unpretentiously into the landscape. One misnomer dogging Cray
himself is that he’s a blues artist. In fact, that’s only part of
his palette, mostly reflected in his fluid, blue guitar-lick lingo,
but with a vocal and groove meter set more on Otis Redding-style
soul music. On Friday night, he only played one steamy, slow blues
tune (and it jolted the apparently blues-ready crowd to its feet).
The rest of his set, largely drawn from his new live album, Live
from Across the Pond, relied on a familiar sound, rippling echoes
of his career-launching 1986 hit “Smoking Gun” (which he didn’t
play on Friday, incidentally).

Cray is one soul man who likes his minor chords. The lion’s
share of his songbook works off of minor mode tunes around which he
wraps his soulful wail of a voice and his always right-on, sweet
but stinging guitar soloing. Friday’s most poignant moment came
with his anti-war saga “Twenty,” an emotionally fraught soldier’s
tale from Iraq. Here, the sad tension of a minor mode is required
fare, and Cray’s crying guitar licks seemed like missives from a
pained soul.