Fans of Robert Cray's unique style of guitar-driven soul-blues can breathe a sigh of relief as the bluesman releases his first studio album in four years with This Time. Recorded at Santa Barbara Sound Design in Santa Barbara, California the album was produced by Cray himself. The guitarist has also shuffled his band roster somewhat since the release of Twenty, his 2005 album, bring his old friend and former bandmember, bassist Richard Cousins, on board along with veteran blues drummer Tony Braunagel to join long-time Cray keyboardist Jim Pugh for this recording.
Cray's sound has always been a unique blend of blues and soul, but as shown by This Time, it's also much more than that. "Every time somebody asks me about where my music comes from, I give them five or six different directions - a little rock, soul, jazz, blues, a little gospel feel," says Cray in a press release for the album. "Then there are some other things that maybe fall in there every once in a while, like a little Caribbean flavor or something. You just never know. I always attribute it to the music we grew up listening to, and the radio back in the '60s. It’s pretty wide open. It's hard to put a tag on it."
Robert Cray's This Time
The songwriting on This Time is a true collaborative effort, with Cray and his band members all contributing to the pot. Cray's soul-drenched "I Can't Fail" is a slow-turning, 1970s-styled R&B beauty featuring one of Cray's most passionate vocal performances, some tasteful gospel-tinged keyboards (courtesy of Jim Pugh), and a crying Cray solo that hits your heart like the biggest, baddest arrow that Cupid has in his quiver. The song is a good example of Cray's confident songwriting skills, a talent that is often overshadowed by his dynamic fretwork.
Cray follows "I Can't Fail" with Pugh's "Love 2009," a soul-blues burner with assured vocals, a silky soundtrack vibe, and an insistent recurring riff. I'd say that these guys were definitely listening to some old-school jams in the creation of This Time, and your ears will thank them for it. The jazzy "That's What Keeps Me Rockin'" is an up-tempo blues stroll that showcases an underutilized, Duke Robillard/Amos Garrett side to Cray's guitarplay. Drummer Tony Braunagel keeps a steady beat with some fine brushwork and subtle drums above which Pugh lays down some infectious keyboard riffing.
Soul-Blues and Island Sounds
Cray dips back into the endless soul-blues well for the title track, another heartfelt vocal performance that benefits from ringing guitarplay that echoes and amplifies each word of the lyrics. With sparse instrumental backing, including a staggered drumbeat and scraps of keyboards and bass, Cray's guitar tone is both jarring and considered, an emotional response to his tearjerker vocals. It's a damn fine song, full of heartache, passion, and joyous sound.
Cray's original "Trouble And Pain" treads lightly into blues-rock territory with a robust beat, louder keyboards and guitar, the singer belting out the lyrics above a spry soundtrack that includes a couple of assured, inventive solos that one could use to chip granite with. There's a slight island flavor in the background of "To Be True," found mostly in the loping rhythm and subtle keyboard washes.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
At nine songs and a runtime of slightly less than three-quarters of an hour, This Time is a couple of songs short of perfection, Cray and his talented crew skipping out before they wear out their welcome. In an era where a lot of artists feel the need to cram every corner of an 80-minute CD with music, Cray errs on the side of caution, leaving the listener wanting (much) more.
This Time is a solid collection of blues, blues-rock, and soul with jazzy overtones that display the guitarist's immense six-string skills without dominating the strong and talented accompaniment of his band. There are few barn-burners here, just emotionally-measured performances where blues and soul slowly pour out of your speakers. The songs work together in creating a finely-crafted whole that evokes a beauty and quiet dignity that has come to define the work and vision of Robert Cray. Highly recommended.... (Nozzle Records/Vanguard, released August 11, 2009)
Robert Cray - This Time Tracklist
1. Chicken In The Kitchen
2. I Can't Fail
3. Love 2009
4. That's What Keeps Me Rockin'
5. This Time
6. To Be True
7. Forever Goodbye
8. Trouble And Pain