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Nothing But Great
on August 29, 2012
Robert Cray has never released a bad album. Some are augmented by horn sections or a second guitarist, and some stand apart because of exceptional songs ("Strong Persuader", "Take Your Shoes Off"). But bad, as in boring or tasteless? I don't believe so.
Always consistent, Cray has broken new ground with "Nothin' But Love". 2009's "This Time" brought us a revitalized band- the return of bassist Richard Cousins and the addition of drummer Tony Braunagel gave Cray needed spark, captured brilliantly on 2010's live "Cookin' In Mobile". On this latest offering, strong songwriting and a great producer make it work. Kevin Shirley has a well deserved reputation with bands like Iron Maiden and Rush, but he actually started producing South African musicians in his native Johannesburg. He earned respect in the blues rock world with Joe Bonamassa's many successes, including "Dust Bowl" and "Live From The Royal Albert Hall". Shirley recorded the band straight from a short tour into a week's worth of rehearsals. His timing, as well as his youthful and eclectic input culminated in one of Cray's most energetic offerings.
"Nothin' But Love" contains some of the strongest songwriting in Robert Cray's canon. Bassist Cousins, along with writing partner Hendrix Ackle wrote the opening track "Won't Be Coming Home". Great jazz inspired guitar on this minor key Blues, which Cray is a master of. Keyboardist Jim Pugh and drummer Braunagel offer "Worry", which is a heartfelt song about a man watching his daughter grow up, and the worry that comes to every man in his position. Pugh also wrote "I'll Always Remember You", and Cray plays well against the horn arrangement.
Cray is as mighty with the pen as he is with the guitar on this disc. "Side Dish" is an uptempo fun R&B number that will guarantee to get you moving. His many shout-out food references are in the best Blues tradition (think "Chicken In The Kitchen" from "This Time"). "I'm Done Cryin' deals with the losses so many have endured in these tough economic times, but the man telling the story will retain his dignity. "Sadder Days"has a beautiful melody, and the lyrics are a clever play on words. The man doesn't want his woman to leave, but leave she does- on a Saturday. When that day of the week comes around, it's a "sadder day".
"Blues Get Off My Shoulder" is a Bobby Parker song first recorded in 1958 with saxophonist Paul Williams.It was Shirley's idea to cover the track, and Cray does justice to the song without copying Parker's licks. The live bonus track, "You Belong To Me" is a great way to end this fine album; both Pugh and Cray get to stretch out on this one. Magic Sam would be proud.
This may be the most diverse collection of songs in Robert Cray's career, at least equal to "Take Your Shoes Off". There are political statements and mature observations, along with some new love-gone-wrong numbers. Cray should be applauded for not falling into the "rock crossover" trap. He has maintained his integrity throughout his career by playing sweet soul blues, and his style owes more to Albert King and Cornell Dupree than Hendrix or SRV. The disc also comes with a booklet describing the making of the music by Henry Yates, with personal quotes from Cray himself. "Nothin' But Love" is nothing but great.