Robert Cray

Live at the BBC

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Live at the BBC excerpts two performances by the Robert Cray Band at Hammersmith Odeon in 1988 and 1991, respectively. The Hammersmith shows were multi-night affairs -- in 1991 there were four -- from which the BBC assembled a pair of hour-long broadcasts. Unfortunately, this hastily issued, shoddily notated CD package gives only the dates of the original radio programs. There are no musician's credits whatsoever. The liner notes by Peter Doggett simply offer a thumbnail biography. Talk about how great Cray is -- continually cite Eric Clapton and Robert Christgau as proof -- and give the sketchiest of details about the actual shows. The first six cuts are the Cray band supporting Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. They perform three cuts from that album, and three from Cray's 1986 breakthrough Strong Persuader. These tracks are adequate with Cray in fine voice and playing plenty of guitar. That said, they all suffer form really dated keyboard sounds; the synths are especially cheesy. Faring better are the eight cuts form the 1991 shows of Cray touring in support of 1990s Midnight Stroll. The Memphis Horns were part of the group for these shows, and the fuller backing lends real electricity to these performances. The material is also better. Track seven is a smoking version of "Phone Booth" from 1983's Bad Influence. Midnight Stroll is represented by four cuts: "These Things," "My Problem," "The Forecast (Calls for Pain)," and "Consequences" -- all of which are exponentially better than the studio versions. The Memphis Horns add dynamic and texture, Cray's singing is full of grit and passion, his guitar playing is choppier and funkier, and the keyboards have been cut back to Hammond B-3 and piano. The final three cuts -- "Acting This Way," "Right Next Door (Because of Me)," and the smoking closer "Smoking Gun" are taken from Don't Be Afraid and Strong Persuader, respectively. They are fantastic show closers -- especially the final track which clocks in at just shy of seven minutes -- offering the sound of a much more seasoned and less studied show band. For Cray fans this will be a necessary addition to the shelf. Finally, Cray, who is a bona fide icon of modern blues, deserves far better treatment than this rather haphazard collection, as these were historic performances and defining moments of his career.

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