LOS ANGELES – The Robert Cray Band, notched its 1,000th live performance as a unit at the beginning of 2005, just after completing their new album, Twenty
. The new album combines the band’s skills with legendary, Grammy winning engineer Don Smith (The Rolling Stones, Ry Cooder, Miles Davis) to craft an intelligent and sophisticated CD that draws from a diverse pool of influences to create a signature sound and a varied menu of songs.
Twenty, like its predecessor Time Will Tell, was co-produced by Cray along with Jim Pugh, his keyboardist of 16 years. Set for May 24 street date, fans can look for U.S. tour dates throughout the balance of the year.
Cray gave several standout performances at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar festival (recently aired on PBS and currently on DVD) with his own band and in an all star jam session with Clapton, Buddy Guy, Robert Randolph, Hubert Sumlin and Jimmie Vaughan. Also just released on DVD is the Martin Scorsese film Lightning In A Bottle, featuring Robert in two segments including the final with Robert, B.B. King and Bonnie Raitt. His performances in the rock classic film Hail Hail Rock and Roll are also just re-airing on cable.
Speaking of Twenty, Cray comments, “What I like most about the album is the variety of songs. We covered a lot of bases on the record – from a touch of jazz with ‘My Last Regret’ and ‘Two Steps From The End’ to ‘Does It Really Matter’ which has a rock feel to it. We have a straight-up blues thing with ‘It Doesn’t Show’ and the song ‘Poor Johnny’ even has an early reggae or ska kind of beat to it.”
While love in all its many forms is the primary theme on the eleven songs that comprise Twenty, Cray and his cohorts are more than willing to delve into other aspects of life.
Twenty, ironically, is not the Robert Cray band’s 20th album but rather its 14th. The album derives its title from the title track “Twenty,” an honest and pointed commentary on the U.S. war in Iraq.
“The song is about an innocent young guy, who, after the events of 9/11, wants to do his part for his country,” Cray explains. “He doesn’t know he’s going to end up in Iraq, watching the horror that’s going on there…and he ends up losing his life. It’s a subject that needs to be spoken about and is in some ways, a continuation of one of the songs we did on the last album (the cut “Distant Shores” on the 2003 Sanctuary album Time Will Tell),” he explains.
Co-producer Jim Pugh notes that the band used a very specific methodology in recording the album: “There’s always the pressure to come up with something that makes an album different and yes, we could have kinds of ‘special guests’ but unless there’s a good reason to do that, it can become tiresome to bring people in just for the sake of it. We made this album fresh by not rehearsing the songs before we went in to record. We took advantage of the fact that we’ve been playing together for so long that we have a ‘feel’ for each of us is going to do. Mostly what you hear on the record are first takes.”
As a result, Twenty has all the energy and flavor of a “live” performance with Cray’s legendary guitar work and soulful vocals augmented by the sterling musicianship of Pugh on keyboards, Karl Severaid on bass and Kevin Hayes on drums.
Since their 1986 major label debut, Strong Persuader, Robert Cray has earned a double platinum album and two gold albums, and has been honored with five Grammy Awards, 11 Grammy nominations and countless other honors. He collaborated on record with such artists as Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, John lee Hooker, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Bonnie Raitt, Jimmie Vaughan, the Neville Brothers, Keb’ Mo’, Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland. Several of these recordings are Grammy winners and nominees as well as Cray’s own.