Better Than: …My Lord, where does one begin?
It was down at the crossroads — in this case, 42nd and Eighth — where Blues Hall of Famer and internationally acclaimed recording and touring artist Robert Cray brought his band to perform for an adoring crowd Friday night. Cray is one of those rare trinities in music: an excellent musician who is also an excellent vocalist who is also an excellent songwriter.
Any one of Cray’s gifts would be sufficient to launch a career, and the fact that Cray has sustained and even enhanced his guitarist/vocalist/songwriter skills over 40 years is truly astounding. Cray’s most recent album, 2014’s In My Soul, is proof positive of this. Not only is it as good as anything he’s ever released, it also showcases his unique range and versatility as an artist, from blues-rock territory (“You Move Me”) to sounds reminiscent of late-Sixties/Seventies soul classics (“Hold On”) to funk (“Nobody’s Fault but Mine”) to soft rock ballads (“What Would You Say,” which Cray refers to as his “hippie song,” given its altruistic lyrical themes).
The show began promptly at 8 p.m., as the audience was still filtering in from a bitterly cold evening outside. The band took the stage before what was ultimately a capacity crowd (standing room only, and there wasn’t a blank space to be found on the floor). Cray’s sixteen-song setlist was appropriately weighted toward tracks from In My Soul, but also paid homage to the full breadth of his career.
The show was delivered with the virtuosity one has come to expect from Cray and his highly talented band (which includes Richard Cousins on bass, Dover Weinberg on keyboards, and Les Falconer on drums). Case in point: Toward the end of the set, the band concluded its rendition of “Right Next Door (Because of Me)” with a perfectly executed fade to silence (as a live band!!), which so thoroughly mesmerized the crowd that Cray felt it necessary to, cleverly, step to the microphone to mimic the sound of a fly, which he then swatted from the air in order to break the silence. Indeed, so expected is Cray’s pitch-perfect performance that, when he missed a single note on one of his guitar solos halfway through the set, it was enough to cause him to break into open laughter (and then shake it off and keep on playing). A sustained standing ovation at the set’s end brought the band back for a two-song encore before packing it in for the evening.
Critical Bias: How does one properly hype an artist as talented as Cray, who is so noteworthy for his humility and gentle manner? In my opinion, he is the rightful King of the Blues.
Overheard: “Oh, this is great! Only in New York!” From a group of tourists sitting beside me. We agree, and we hope you enjoy your visit…
Random Notebook Dump: Why don’t they have artists like the Robert Cray Band play at the Super Bowl? A little bit of substance would be good for that kind of spectacle, and certainly wouldn’t be any less entertaining.