Robert Cray 

Thursday, July 8; Mississippi Nights

A favorite of blues fans and guitar aficionados since his 1986 commercial breakthrough with the Grammy-winning Strong Persuader, Robert Cray has created a signature sound featuring spare, stinging guitar solos in the tradition of B.B. King, T-Bone Walker and Albert Collins; soulful vocals that recall O.V. Wright or Sam Cooke as much as Muddy or Wolf; and clever material that puts a contemporary slant on traditional blues themes of love, sex and money (or the lack thereof).

However, last year's release of Time Will Tell, made while Cray was between record deals, found him taking a different approach, loosening up (though not completely abandoning) his successful formula and opening what could prove to be a new chapter in his musical evolution.

Freed at least temporarily from commercial pressures, Cray experimented with new themes (as exemplified by the antiwar protest song "Survivor") and different instrumental combinations, including featuring a string quartet on a couple of tracks, bringing in Sly Stone's old horn section and making his debut on electric sitar. Cray remains a savvy pro with a well-earned reputation as an exciting live performer, and it should be interesting to see how he integrates these new songs into his show.

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