Robert Cray, O2 ABC, 28/6/12
Robert Cray’s 1986 album “Strong Persuader” is the second best sounding album on vinyl I have: the space, the soundstage and that glorious picking leaping out of the turntable to fill the room are all fantastic. If I want to sing and dance and play the air guitar, on it goes: my neighbours hate it, needless to say.
I’ve not been a huge fan over the years, but didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see him live, so here I am. It’s a terrific gig because of the quality on offer. Cray has the archetypal blues voice, pitch perfect and with a huge range; and, of course, he’s a quite brilliant guitarist, one of those players who is so distinctive, he can be recognised within a couple of bars. Everything about his picking is clean and clear, and every single note seems to be given its own space. At times, he plays so sensitively, it’s almost as if he’s turned the amp off; at others, he plucks those strings harder than I’ve ever heard. He’s a big guy – I can only remember one other guitarist, Booga from Ezio, who makes a guitar look so small – and he has huge hands that just dwarf the fretboard; that, along with the fact that he holds his guitar in a quite unusual fashion, on his right hip, the fretboard jutting out like an M16 rifle barrel, gives the impression that he means business, and there aint no messing with him
I have a couple of friends who are slightly critical of him for being a bit too MOR; thankfully, I’m not with them tonight, but with my pal Donald who is undoubtedly a fan and who goes home on a considerable high. I think I can see their point a bit; there is constant technical brilliance from Cray and his excellent band, but they’re so good and they’ve been grooving so long, occasionally one number does seem a little indistinguishable from the next. But there are some clear stand outs that make any samey-ness in the other numbers totally forgivable, including “The One in the Middle”, in which keyboard player Jim Pugh does an astonishing Hammond organ solo that almost brings the house down.
Best of all is the last of the night, the huge ballad “Time Makes Two” during which the very best of that wonderful voice and sublime guitar raises the roof again. It would have been criminal to follow it with anything else, it was just that good. Easily one of the numbers of the year.