ROBERT CRAY - Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm (2017)
Continuing his revived collaboration with producer Steve Jordan -- the pair first worked together on 1999's Take Your Shoes Off, then reunited on 2014's In My Soul -- Robert Cray headed to Memphis to cut his 18th studio set with members of the legendary Hi Rhythm Section. Setting up shop at Royal Studios, Cray got to work on a handful of originals and a collection of covers, not all of them strictly related to Memphis. In particular, Cray pushes swamp rocker Tony Joe White and "5" Royales leader Lowman Pauling, cutting two songs from each writer. These sit alongside a pair of tunes from Sir Mack Rice (the author of "Mustang Sally"), a version of Bill Withers' "The Same Love That Made Me Laugh," and three originals by Cray, so the album casts its net wide but unites these various styles and eras through the prism of sleek Memphis soul. Jordan evokes the smooth, soulful shimmer of Hi at its peak, but the record never seems studied or an exercise in nostalgia; there's an elegance to the grooves that seems effortless. "The Way We Are," a Cray original, simmers like Al Green but most of the album is funkier, reaching an apex with both "You Must Believe in Yourself" and the cooking "Don't Steal My Love," which happens to be graced by a cameo from its author, Tony Joe White. His appearance underscores how Robert Cray has gotten a lift from his new collaborators: supported by the Hi Rhythm Section he sounds livelier and grittier than he has in years, and that passion serves as a nice counterpoint to the smooth grooves on Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm.
TRACKS: 01. The Same Love That Made Me Laugh 02. You Must Believe In Yourself 03. I Don't Care 04. Aspen, Colorado 05. Just How Low 06. You Had My Heart 07. I'm With You, Pt. 1 08. Honey Bad 09. The Way We Are 10. Don't Steal My Love 11. I'm With You, Pt. 2
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