Robert Cray

Definitive Collection [Remastered]

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Robert Cray's musical strengths, which include an economic, elegant and melodic guitar approach and a soulful and unthreatening vocal style, have led many blues purists to question his authenticity in the genre, but to his credit, Cray has ignored all that and fashioned an approachable legacy that treats the blues as a vital ingredient in a kind of soul/blues mix that looks forward as much as it enfolds the past. This is an artist, remember, who managed to get the blues, even if it was somewhat sanitized, into regular rotation on MTV in the 1980s, and if he seems more jazz than Delta in his guitar playing, well, there's nothing inherently wrong with that. Cray's main talent may be in synthesis, but he can still get you good in a cutting contest. This 16-track compilation spans Cray's recording career beginning with his Hightone Records debut, Bad Influence from 1983 (nothing from Cray's first LP, 1980s Who's Been Talkin' on Tomato Records, is included here) and runs through his lengthy stint with Mercury Records to his more recent turns with Rykodisc and Sanctuary Records. What becomes obvious in listening to this sequence is how remarkably consistent Cray has been in his sound, even as he has grown more to the soul side of things. The blues is always there, just beneath the surface, and his broad accessibility is impressive. What's perhaps even more impressive is Cray's songwriting, which has opened up to include several political songs of late, and he is doing what many more acclaimed contemporary blues players have shied away from. He is addressing his times, all within the context of his style. This collection makes an adequate introduction to Cray's work, and it features key tracks like "Phone Booth," "Smoking Gun" and "I Was Warned," but one gets the feeling that it might be a bit premature, that Cray's best and most innovative work might still be up and around the bend. ~ Steve Leggett, Rovi