CD Review of Live from Across the Pond by Robert Cray Band

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Live from Across the Pond
starstarstarno starno star Label: Nozzle/Vanguard
Released: 2006
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Robert Cray live has always been about the long guitar solos, period. I've seen the dude several times, and that's the drill. Sometimes, a Cray gig can resemble a jam-band show; in fact, rock historians with a little imagination could argue that the Robert Cray Band bridged the gap between 1970s blues-jam originators like the Allmans and Cream and their 1990s offspring like Blues Traveler, Widespread Panic, and Phish. Of course, that would be short-changing Cray, whose smooth, soulful urban blues caters to more intelligent music consumers than white potheads in their flip-flops, woven hemp fannypacks, and bright tie-dyes simply looking for a place to spark up.

Perhaps Cray's sophistication has been his blessing and curse. His sharp "Right Next Door" and "Smoking Gun" singles fueled his popularity in the 1980s, getting widespread airplay on pop and rock radio. He and Stevie Ray Vaughn almost singlehandedly revived blues at the time. While he soon faded from the spotlight, Cray built a hardcore following with tireless touring and the development of a beautifully polished road show that never strayed from his blues sound – an oeuvre never very fashionable in Cray's time as, say, grunge rock or electronica. The 2-CD Live from Across the Pond, Cray's first live album, documents the sublime, subtle perfection of his concerts.

It's a beautifully recorded piece, featuring all the Cray tunes his fans enjoy from the Cray chestnut "Right Next Door" to the early-'80s "Phone Booth," and even the very recent poignant anti-Iraq-war "Twenty" that departs from his typical love-lost or love-about-to-be-lost content. The one missing cut is "Smoking Gun." Its absence is a double-edged sword: on one hand, everyone who was alive in the 1980s has heard that cut a thousand times already, and Cray's probably tired of playing it. On the other hand, leaving one's biggest hit off one's first-ever live album feels like a glaring omission.

Yet overall, Cray makes the grade; like many singers of his ilk, his voice is mellowing and even more beautiful than when he first broke out some 20 years ago, and of course, the guitar solos are brilliant. That's also a curse. If you're not a six-string worshiper, the songs can sound a little like a vehicle to get from one brilliant guitar solo to the next. But that's a minor complaint Live from Across the Pond reminds us that Cray is not only still around, but the leader of his generation's bluesmen. If you like Cray, you'll love this album.

~Mojo Flucke, PhD