Awakening from an assisted slumber, our own Nanker Phledge checks in from a typically High Altitude!
With last year’s ” Nothing But Love ” making several year-end ” Best ” lists, Robert Cray once again stunned loyal fans with fresh takes on blues themes and styles. Yet for most casual fans, Cray remains the cliched ” he’s much better in concert ” artist who made his name as a guitarist on the 80s’ releases of ” Strong Persuader” and ” Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”, when every track seemed to be steeped in hidden rendezvous and dark infidelity. His famed tours with Eric Clapton and duets with BB King and the late (unrelated) Albert King burnished his stringslinging rep, but if you take a trained musician to his shows they’ll rave about his voice, with its graceful upper register and scat-like phrasing.
Backed by longtime cohorts Jim Pugh on keyboards and Richard Cousins on bass, as well as stalwart drummer Les Falconer, the RCB took the stage at the Arvada Center just as a mountain rain was gently caressing the uncovered patrons in the terraced Hippie Seating. Freely mixing old favorites like ” Strong Persuader” and ” The Road Down ” with material from the ” Nothing But Love ” CD, Cray was relaxed and affable, in sharp contrast to the early days when Young Bobby seemed so angry he’d fight with a fencepost if it looked at him wrong ( thank you, James McMurtry). Highlights included a smooth cover of the Walter Vinson/ Lonnie Chatmon classic ” Sittin’ On Top of the World “, with several humorous asides and expressions that amplified the ” she’s gone, but I don’ worry ” theme of the great Mississippi Sheiks’ tune ( revived by Cream on ” Wheels of Fire” ). Cray’s voice was strong and clear, and his choppy chording and clean picking on various Fenders reaffirmed his unique, easily recognizable style. He remains one of a handful of axemen– Carlos Santana and Mark Knopfler come to mind– whose chops can be identified by even untrained ears ( who, me?).
The set built to a crescendo with the newer stuff: the gentle ” Sadder Days”, the R and B-flavored ” I’ll Always Remember You ” , the graceful, lilting ” A Memo “, and the slow burning Economic Downturn anthem ” I’m Done Cryin’ “, with Cray squeezing out the lyrics from a place of deep pain, and the crowd eerily quiet during the tense ” I’m still a man ” choruses. With a wave to the roaring crowd, and a giggly wish for the lawn patrons to ” dry out soon”, Cray strode offstage and into the Rocky Mountain night. He’s gone, but I don’ worry. I’m sittin’ on top of the world. At least for one night!