Robert Cray set to enter studio with legendary rock producer Kevin Shirley

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Photograph by Vincenzo Giammanco

Five-time Grammy-winning soul-blues star Robert Cray will enter the studio later this month to begin recording a new album with producer Kevin Shirley, known for his work with Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Journey, Joe Bonamassa and the Black Crowes, among others.

“What an absolute honour to work with Robert Cray,” Shirley says. “I’ve been a fan since (Cray’s 1986 breakthrough release) Strong Persuader. He’s an extraordinary talent. It’s really such a treat for me! My goal and challenge with this record, is to tap into the edgy vitality and spontaneity of a live Robert Cray performance, and wrap it up as a studio recording, with a big blues bow!”

Cray is also set for a European tour beginning in June, including three UK concerts — at this year’s London Bluesfest, then at Glasgow O2 ABC and Birmingham Town Hall. The as-yet-untitled new studio project, to be issued internationally by the Mascot Label Group’s Provogue Records, is due in September.

“I’m really enthusiastic about collaborating with Kevin,” Cray says. “He’s done some amazing work in the past and I like the direction we’re taking for this album.”

Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Robert Cray. Click through the title for complete reviews …

ROBERT CRAY, THIS TIME (2009): Robert Cray’s era of peak popularity from the mid-eighties to the early nineties was due to his strong crossover appeal. Back then, he was a blues man at heart, but poured in a lot of soul and just a little bit of rock. His songs were modernized twists on the old themes of love found, love lost and every facet of relationships in-between. Cray had the perfect pipes to fit this style. And let’s not overlook his clean, impeccable guitar playing, either. Twenty years and many albums later and Cray stays close to this winning combination. Someone could easily level the criticism that his records don’t vary much at all, and it’s true, one Robert Cray album sounds like any other Robert Cray album for the most part. But if you dig that Cray sound like we do, then that’s quite alright.

ROBERT CRAY – TWENTY (2005): My dad introduced me to Robert Cray long ago and, even into a new century, little had changed with Cray: He was still putting out dependable, if unspectacular, albums of his smooth brand of blues — a sound that fills in that overlooked category of music that can be played in the background for pretty much anyone and it won’t offend in any way. Cray’s blues are soulful, but have enough sheen that they aren’t going to drag people’s mood down. Yet, they’re real, and therefore it never feels like inconsequential background music. Guitar-afficianados still find plenty to enjoy in his well-developed sound.

DEEP CUTS – ROBERT CRAY, “MIDNIGHT STROLL” (1990): This album sports an impressive cache of well written and well played songs, varying from the rolling bass line of the tough “The Forecast (Calls For Pain)” — which became a moderate hit — to the sassy soul of “Consequences” to the staggered rhythm of “Holdin’ Court.” Having Al Green’s Memphis Horns providing some Stax moods on most of the tracks makes it all the mo’ better. And while I can listen to this CD all the way through without skipping any songs, it’s that last track I eagerly anticipate. The song of the same name as the album, “Midnight Stroll” is blues strut the underscores the confidence of the narrator about “all the love we’re gonna make” tonight as he arrives in his “long black Caddy.” Jimmy Pugh’s greasy organ provides a solid slab of soul upon which Cray emotes and howls over. And when it’s cuttin’ time, Cray delivers.

ROBERT CRAY, STRONG PERSUADER (1986): Cray was very obviously influenced by Albert Collins — who burned a Telecaster legend into place at Cray’s high school graduation. But, he later became a kind of new-wave Moses, the guy who made it OK for most folks to admit to liking the blues again. Call him yuppie if you want, but at least he doesn’t play rock and pass it off as blues, as do so many of the new so-called crossover artists. Singing something like O.V. Wright (the great 1960s singer on Memphis’ Hi Records), Cray also plays in the crisp, crying fashion of B.B. King. One well-placed guitar note might be all he hits, while others would play three or four.

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Here’s just-released ticket information for Robert Cray’s UK appearances:

London BluesFest 2012
O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire
Tuesday 26 June
BluesFest Presents: Robert Cray
Tickets on sale Friday 16 March at 9:00am
Box Office: 0844 477 2000
Tickets: £27.50 / Doors: 7pm,
Shepherds Bush Green, London, W12 8TT

Glasgow O2 ABC
Thursday 28 June
Box Office: 0844 844 0444
Tickets: £27.50 / Doors: 7pm,
300 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, G2 3JA

Birmingham Town Hall
Friday 29 June
Box Office: 0121 345 0600
Tickets: £29.50 / Doors: 7pm
Tickets pre-sale: Friday 16 March at 9:00am:
General on sale date: Saturday 17 March at 9am,
Victoria Square, Birmingham B3 3DQ

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