Robert Cray Band – That’s What I Heard: Album Review

Good to report that the Robert Cray we know and love is at the heart of the new album, That’s What I Heard.

Release Date: 27th March 2020

Label: Nozzle Records / Thirty Tigers

Formats: CD / LP / Digital

I first heard the Robert Cray Band way back in 1988 when they appeared on some TV show – The Old Grey Whistle Test possibly – and I was immediately taken by the band’s luscious mix of blues, soul and Hendrix-influenced guitar virtuosity. The soulful and sinister flavours of the sound were a refreshing throwback in an era dominated by electronica and pastel colours. 

My interest was piqued sufficiently to motivate me to go out and buy a couple of the band’s available albums – Who’s Been Talkin’? and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.  A lot of water has passed under a lot of bridges since those formative days of the 1980s; Robert and the band have now released some 20 studio albums, but I’m very pleased to be able to report that the basic ingredients that first attracted me to the Robert Cray band are still clearly detectable in this latest offering.

Actually, what particularly strikes me about this new album is the versatility that Robert shows.  The Robert Cray that I know and love is still at the heart of the album, notably on his self-composed tracks, Anything You Want, This Man, Hot and Can’t Make Me Change. In each of these songs, Robert uses his soulful voice to describe the heartfelt betrayal that so often features in his music and emphasises his deep hurt with fluent guitar solos.  However, Robert shows a different facet of his compositional personality on To Be With You, a song with a far mellower feel and a lyric that tells of devotion, rather than betrayal.

Robert’s versatility is showcased on a number of tracks, as he explores Gospel (the traditional Burying Ground), Sweet Soul (notably on Curtis Mayfield’s You’ll Want Me Back), Stax Soul (on You’re The One – it’s almost possible to imagine that the MGs are providing the backing track on this one – and Little Less Lonely) and Boogaloo (on My Baby Likes to Boogaloo and Do It.)  Quite an eclectic mix of sounds and wonderfully entertaining.

I’ve always previously admired Robert Cray principally for his guitar playing which is, of course, exemplary.  However, what really supplies the impact on That’s What I Heard is his clear, melodic and quintessentially soulful voice.  Whether he is exploring the depths of inter-relational deceit on one of his own compositions or whether he is interpreting the intentions of another writer, RC manages consistently to nail the perfect vocal; his interpretational skill is particularly evident on this album on You’re The One and You’ll Want Me Back.

It’s also worth mentioning Steve Jordan’s production of the album, which is clear and precise and captures the blend of guitar, organ and vocal perfectly; he’s delivered the first-class product that would be expected from someone who has also worked his magic for such luminaries as Sheryl Crow, Josh Groban, Keith Richards and Boz Scaggs.

That’s What I Heard is released on 27 March on Nozzle Records/Thirty Tigers and the Robert Cray Band will be touring the UK in April and May with shows scheduled in Cambridge, Bexhill, Birmingham, Oxford, Portsmouth, St Albans, London, Basingstoke, Buxton and Leicester.  On the evidence of this album, the band is certainly worth checking out.

Listen to Anything You Want here:

Robert Cray: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / YouTube

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