Robert Cray Band

Live from Across the Pond [Nozzle/Vanguard]

It’s no secret that Robert Cray’s studio releases are generally smooth productions with tight song arrangements, and that he opens up the songs and jams more onstage. Surprisingly, Live from Across the Pond is the first official live document of the terrifically tight Robert Cray Band, which has logged over 10,000 gigs with the same lineup of Jim Pugh on keyboards, Kevin Hayes on drums, and Karl Sevareid on bass. They lay the foundation while Cray delivers the song, adding dynamics and embellishments when he solos. The career-spanning set begins with a pumping rendition of “Phone Booth,” from 1983’s Bad Influence, and jumps right into “Poor Johnny,” a stellar track from his laest studio effort, Twenty. The call-and-response delay licks in the solo are a tasty new sonic twist. His tone is still clean and pristine—it’s not like the live setting reveals much more dirt—but Cray certainly digs deeper in front of an audience. You can feel the pushing of power tubes and hear Cray groaning along with his guitar as he improvises. There are a couple of caveats. “Right Next Door” lacks punch, and “Smoking Gun” is absent altogether. Otherwise, this is an exceptional chronicle of the Cray experience.
—Jimmy Leslie