Review by Richard Henry for MPM
Another lovely night in Belfast, and tonight we have American Blues royalty in town, Robert Cray on the last date of his European and U.K tour, playing in the Mandela Hall and it’s sold out, which is always great to see!
For the guitarists out there, Robert was playing, 2 Matchless Half Stacks and a Fender combo where center stage as well as a Violet blue and 3 Tone Sunburst Signature Fender Stratocasters!
Anything You Want
From 2020’s “Thats What I Heard” album, straight into an up-tempo shuffly groove and right there it is, that voice, so clear, just like a bell, some great Hammond from Dover on this and nice drumming from Les, that crystal clear Strat neck pick up solo, the pick up after the solo just swings, nice to see Robert letting lose with the solos and really digging in with them, wonderful to hear, the crowd cheering after each solo as well!
Sittin on Top of the World
2010’s, “Cooking in Mobile” album is up next for this track, this one brings it tight back down to a slow blues tempo, Shes gone and left me, my baby’s gone, some really nice work from Dover on the piano on this one adding in little fills around the vocal parts, before the dynamics come down for a nice middle pick up sounding solo, very Sweet Georgia Brown in feel, bassist Richard Cousins and drummer Les Falconer are laying a smooth bed for the other two to solo over, again great use of dynamics as the song moves around!
I Don’t Care
99’s Hi Rhythm album is next, simple guitar parts on this with bassist Richard really laying it down, some really nice Hammond on this one, more New Orleans in vibe on this track, this one has drummer Les adding backing vocals on this on the chorus and it has to be said, not only is he swinging away back there but he has a really fantastic voice as well, its groove all the way with the crowd swaying and clapping along to this one, brings the summer vibe to the Mandela to match the weather outside!
You Can’t Make Me Change
Another from the new album, a slinky little groove on this one with a bit of side stick, that trademark soaring vocal as well, so clean and just beautifully subtle and strong, great key change into the chorus, really gives the part a lift, simple guitar part through most of the song, then into an almost George Benson style solo on this, in tone and note choice, the Hammond chord backing is just a lovely bed to solo over, back into the chorus again, such a good track, great cheers from the crowd after this one!
Won’t Be Coming Home
From 2012’s “Nothing but Love”, really straight groove to this with a nice piano and key backing, it’s a proper soul crossed with blues album, love that chorus, it’s so catchy and I remember loving this album when it came out for that reason, it was so catchy, again Les is just so in the pocket and just driving this one forward, key change into the middle of the song, then into the solo as it drops back into the original key with some nice piano work accompanying the solo, into that so singable chorus!
Chicken in the Kitchen
From 2009’s “This Time” album, this is a real swing fell on this with a stabbing guitar part which is held together with the layer of Hammond holding down the chords in a real gospel style, that’s a real bridge pick up solo, really direct and piercing in sound, lots of feel on this one, lovely tasty high hat work from Les on this one, you got to change your ways now baby, Robert tells us, this gets a longer outro and then the band brings the end groove right down and down and down till you can barely hear it and it’s amazing how quiet they get to, everyone straining to hear the last chords!
2001’s “Shoulda Been Home” album is up next, an almost straight funk groove on the drums to this with sparse chords been played over the verse before an almost James Brown couple of stabs come in, I love that riff that comes in just before the solo, a sort of sparse solo, call and response section on the solo before Robert gets to open up a little bit into this, the vocals are just so silky smooth and totally on point the whole night, it’s something he has in spades is that vocal prowess and the guitar playing is like the icing on the cake!
Hip Tight Onions
From 2014’s “In My Soul” album, we have the only instrumental of the night, very keys heavy and a real sort of Detroit Soul sound, ala Booker T, The Meters, just out and out soul/funk, love the little parts with the breaks and the that little organ part floating about as well, it’s so in the pocket, looking round you can see the crowd clapping and getting into it, what’s not to love about a track like this!
1983’s album of the same name, now there was a big cheer for this one, I suppose it is one of the hits for sure, when you think about it, really, it’s a beautiful mix of a pop track mixed with soul and blues, often imitated and very rarely bettered, you forget how short and to the point the song is, no sax solo as the original had, but listen to all the modulations that this section takes before we go back into familiar ground as well go verse and into that chorus again, it’s over way too soon, great response to this one from the Mandela Hall!
Deep in my Soul
2014s “In My Soul” is back again for this one, this is a Motown sort of vibe, with a sparse drum part, and the keys holding a lot of the work, half way through the verse it changes up a key, the star element is the vocal, with the band leaving space for it, and dropping down the dynamics to let it be the star, emotional and wrought vocal in the mid-section of this one just before the guitar solo comes in, which again is very restrained, peppering parts around the vocal then out on its own, you don’t actually miss the horn section on the original, piano coming in under the solo to fill out the sound, it’s a great atmosphere track!
You Move Me
Still on the same album, this is as a rocker as Robert gets, with that stabbed guitar phrase carrying this song, it’s very forward in nature without the bluesy swing of some of the other tracks, again the Hammond creates a nice blanket on the chorus and then filling in during the verse parts, getting a chance to play a bit more on that solo and flex a bit, before we go back into that riff, you know you move me baby Robert sings before he gets a chance to play a bit more, call and answer with his vocal on the end of this one, love it when he takes off on an extended solo, such a glassy, bell like guitar tone!
Back to the High Rhythm album yet again for this one, this is way laid back, almost reminding me of BB King, it’s a slow slow blues, except its major and not minor sounding, almost soft-spoken vocal on this, with the keys and piano filling in all round the vocal, you could almost say gospel Ish as well, people are swaying from side to side in time with this one, in the crowd in front of me, Robert takes a short but melodic solo on this, before he leads us back into another verse, but he takes the vocals up more in pitch before coming back down again, creating a bit of drama, before we have a very Beatles end to the song!
Right Next Door (Because of Me)
Now this is definitely another “hit”, this has a very 80s feel to it, which isn’t surprising as it’s from the 86 album Strong Persuader, it’s a soul/blues mix, more blues live than the original was, but I am pretty sure Robert played the solo exactly the way it is on the album, could be wrong but pretty sure, big reaction from the crowd when its announced and its clear most people know this one, it’s a chorus that will stick in your head and you will sing every time you hear it!
You Must Believe in Yourself
High Rhythm album is back again, drummer Les really opens up on this one, it’s a proper funky number and he looks like he is having a ball, Robert doing some vocal acrobatics in the chorus section, an almost Stevie Wonder keyboard part going along with this one, I love the guitar tone, just glassy, like a rock slipping over a frozen lake (to quote the man himself), if you heard the original there are horn parts on this but you don’t miss them at all on the live version, and there is just so much energy coming from the guys on the stage, and there we go, this is the last song of the regular set, but as we all know when the house lights don’t come on and a band leaves the stage, we have more to come!
From the 83 Bad Influence album, it’s a classic song, again it’s that funk/soul feel to this one, I always listened to this one and it reminded me of Stevie ray but of course this came out the same year, it has that feel to it. Although the solo reminds me of Mark Knopfler as well, lots of popped notes and rakes, the rhythm section just bouncing about holding the groove down and in the pocket, this was one of the tracks that I first heard from Robert and I was so glad to hear it live, second solo Robert gets to play out a little more and he just has the feel and soul in his playing that only a legend in his craft can do!
Time Makes Two
The last track of the evening, and it’s hard to believe that has been 90 minutes already, this is from 2003’s Time Will Tell album, and it brings the whole set to a close, that intro with Robert playing those counterpoint chords with him singing over it, it totally puts the focus on his amazing voice, keys man Dover just adding a bed of synth underneath with Les playing timpani mallets for the drum part, the solo is spine chilling, it’s just a beautiful piece of taste and note choice from Robert, then into the verse which is like the intro without the drums for a part before they come in again, then the keys swell in again after the chorus, and that is it, set over!
Outstanding, the guy is undoubtably a blues legend at this point, but he is like BB in a way, a lot of blues players are great players who have to sing, Robert is a great singer who is also a great player, which is a rare combination! If you get the chance to go see him then go and do it, you won’t be disappointed, the band and Robert were absolutely amazing!
Photography by MPM