in performance: the robert cray band

robert cray.

robert cray.

Robert Cray isn’t much of a talker onstage. Last night at the Lyric Theatre, he packed 17 songs from 13 different albums into a very businesslike 100 minute performance that left little room for chat. The concert’s framework didn’t vary much from his other regional outings through the years, either. The guitar tone was spotless, the singing sounded remarkably unblemished by age and the overall sound remained a vital hybrid of blues and Memphis flavored R&B. In short, it was business as usual – which with Cray, was just fine.

Still, Cray slipped a curve ball into his encore with a work titled What Would You Say. It was an original composition from his 2014 album In My Soul (a record dominated by vintage R&B covers) that spoke directly to the here and now. Cray didn’t elaborate on its inclusion in the setlist, but it was difficult not to view the tune as a prayer for peace in light of the Friday terrorist killings in Paris.

“What would you say if we quit waging war and children felt safe?” Cray sang the verse with the soulful delicacy of Otis Redding in one of his more reflective moods. Redding’s spirit popped up several times last night. You heard it in the dub-like drive of Poor Johnny, the Otis Rush-style blues cool of the show-opening I Shiver and the solemnly paced soul affirmation of I Can’t Fail. But on What Would You Say, Cray’s singing was especially comforting. It serviced a moment of pause and reflection that was almost medicinal considering the events of the day. That the song was given such an inconspicuous presence in the performance made it even more powerful.

Outside of that, the show’s emotive highlights centered on Cray’s way with blues ballads. He usually delivers one mammoth ballad per show. Last night, he served up three – I’m Done Cryin’ (where pain was centered not in romantic betrayal but in less glamorous, real life losses of a job and home), The Last Time I Get Burned Like This (a 1985 gem that shoveled betrayal by the bucketload) and Time Makes Two (a smoldering epic for voice and guitar).

Dependable as ever, Cray didn’t disappoint. While a few of the decimated hearts populating his songs were dealing with a more worldly pain last night, Cray’s musical comfort proved as resolute and effective as ever.

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