Robert Cray Band – ‘In My Soul’ Album Review

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Rather like Clapton’s delightful effort, ‘old sock’, Robert Cray’s latest album finds the well-respected guitarist in a relaxed, soulful mood. A ten track effort 9eleven if you get the limited edition album), ‘in my soul’ leaves behind the grittier blues of 2012’s  exquisite ‘nothin but love’, and focuses on the spirit of soul, taking the listener on a guided tour of soul and the blues, with Robert as the eloquent guide. The result is an album that smoulders as a Robert digs deep to deliver some beautifully languid solos over a musical backdrop that perfectly captures the free spirit of the sixties and seventies. Untainted by modern cynicism, it is a record that lightens the spirits, eases the unquiet mind and it is an unmitigated pleasure from start to finish.

Opening track ‘you move me’ is one of the album’s more bluesy numbers, recalling ‘some girls’ era stones with its throbbing bass and addictive melody. It has a lovely, upbeat vibe and the lyrics speak to anyone who has ever been in a relationship whilst the lead break shoots sparks against the funky bass line and rocking beat. ‘Nobody’s fault but mine’ is a brass-soaked cover of the Otis Reading classic that swaggers out in the hot summer sun with its springy guitar work and smooth vocals (courtesy of both Robert and drummer Les Falconer). Things take a jazzier turn with the lightly melancholic ‘fine yesterday’ which draws upon the spirit of Smokey Robinson with its beautiful melody and heartfelt lyricism. Fine yesterday is a one of those brave departures that Robert occasionally takes on his albums and its timeless feel and hauntingly memorable melody suggests it will be listened to years from now as an example of simple, classic song-writing craft. Another cover appears next in the form of ‘your good thing’s about to come to an end’ which neatly captures the sound of a band playing to an audience of lost souls as last orders is called, the subtle addition of a horn section only adding to the after-hours feel the song evokes. Upping the tempo, ‘I guess I’ll never know’ has a funky beat that you just have to tap your feet to whilst ‘hold on’ is a smoky, end of the night song that feels like the natural end to the first half of the album. Robert’s voice is just perfect here, his delivery not only note perfect but laden with the emotive power and his rich tones soar over the band’s sympathetic backing.

Kicking off the second half of the album, ‘what would you say’ takes the lyrical theme of ‘imagine’ and sets it to a bluesy backdrop that draws in equal measure from the folky pop of the sixties and the smoky psychedelic music of the early seventies, whilst an understated solo from Robert captures the piece’s laid-back feel perfectly. ‘Hip tight onions’ is a rare instrumental written by Robert’s bassist Richard Cousins alongside Hendrix Ackle and it is has a loose, groovy feel to it that makes perfect sense when you discover that it was penned as a tribute to Booker T and the MGs. ‘You’re everything’ is described by Robert as being “just a love tune”, but it’s penned-from –the-heart lyrics and sultry melody belie the notion that it’s just anything, and you can imagine this one becoming a live favourite with its beautiful musicianship and heart-felt performance. ‘Deep in my soul’ closes the album proper (although a bonus track awaits those who buy the limited edition) on a horn-driven note that conjures the heady spirit of New Orleans with its vibrant blues vibe and haunting quality. Originally written by Bobby Bland, it is the perfect closing track and it is, as producer Steve Jordan notes, a song that you have to put on and just shut up whilst it plays. A true show stopper in every sense, it is the album’s highlight and it leaves you in no doubt of Robert’s exquisite skill. The bonus track, ‘pillow’ has a hard act to follow, and rather than compete, the band turn up the funk, light a lava lamp and let the good times roll. It captures the easy vibe of the album and it is a perfect coda to the record.

‘In my soul’ is one of those beautiful albums that is born purely from the love the musicians have for music. Steve Jordan’s production is crystal clear, allowing every instrument to sparkle whilst retaining the human warmth of music from the sixties and seventies, eschewing the over-processed perfection that some producers feel the need to bring to bear for a sound that is richly detailed and natural no matter how much you crank the volume (and you’ll surely want to!) Mining a more soulful seam than ‘nothin but love’, ‘in my soul’ is a relaxed, loose record that gently works its way into your consciousness until, before you know it, you have at least half of the songs form the record permanently on the brain. The music is simply timeless, the playing flawless and there is no question that you’ll want to return to this album regularly. Heartbreak, joy, sadness and hope are all represented here and you’re once again reminded that Robert Cray is one of the finest musicians in his genre. ‘In my soul’ is a heart-warming album that pointedly turns its head away from the crushing cynicism of modern existence and harks back to a simpler, more innocent era and it is an absolute joy from start to finish.

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