Robert Cray

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Robert Cray

Tin-eared critics have frequently damned him as a yuppie blues wanna-be whose slickly soulful offerings bear scant resemblance to the real down-home item. In reality, Robert Cray is one of a precious few active blues artists with the talent and vision to successfully usher the idiom into the future without resorting either to slavish imitation or simply playing rock while passing it off as blues.

Just as importantly, his immensely popular records helped immeasurably to jump-start the contemporary blues boom that still holds sway to this day. Blessed with a soulful voice that sometimes recalls '60s great O.V. Wright and a concise lead guitar approach that never wastes notes, Cray's ascendancy was amazingly swift - in 1986 his breakthrough album, Strong Persuader, for Mercury (containing "Smoking Gun") won him a Grammy and shot his asking price for a night's work skyward.

Unlike too many of his peers, Cray continues to experiment within his two presiding genres, blues and soul. Sets such as Midnight Stroll, I Was Warned and Shame + a Sin for Mercury show that the "bluenatics" (as he amusedly labels his purist detractors) have nothing to fear and plenty to anticipate from this innovative, laudably accessible guitarist.