Picks and Pans Review: Midnight Stroll

updated 09/24/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/24/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Robert Cray

One might expect the blues to be boring. After all, the mood is usually sad, there's little variety in the chord progressions, and if anyone ever outlawed the opening line "Woke up dis mornin'," half the songwriters would be out of business. Yet in the hands of a master—and Cray qualifies—the narrow focus is not at all confining.

Just by bending the genre this way and that, Cray comes up with the Memphis hoodoo rumble of "The Forecast," the deep-soul lament of "My Problem" and the muscular shuffle of "Consequences." Hearing the variety is like watching a score of circus clowns pour out of a Volkswagen.

With this record, Cray has changed his backup band. The most notable new member is keyboardist Jimmy Pugh, whose organ riffs add a nice element. But the main man still carries the show with his mellifluous voice and fluid yet penetrating guitar style. Listen to the splendid solo on "These Things," which tumbles out like feelings that have been held inside for too long.

With the exception of the torqued-up "Move a Mountain," the songs don't have the ineluctable impact that made Cray's Strong Persuader such a hit in 1986. But the addition of the Memphis Horns to this recording was inspired. It gives Cray's music the swing-from-the-heels punch of an old-time soul revue. Yeah, Cray can take those laconic blues and make them speak volumes. (PolyGram)

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