Robert Cray and his very capable band brought their latest tour to the TPAC in Nashville on Tuesday, February 27, 2018 in support of the Grammy Award-winning artist’s latest project Robert Cray and Hi Rhythm. While just a stones throw away from the mighty Cumberland River, Cray and his four-piece put their genre-bridging musicality on display with a night of top-notch blues, soul, and R&B.
Robert Cray was a man of few words as he went about his business except for the frequent “thank you so much” that served to conclude several of his numbers. He seemed content to let his blues guitar chops and solid singing serve as the evening’s strong persuader in Nashville – and, it most certainly was.
We were sitting next to a man who was an early adopter of Cray fandom when the musician emerged from the Pacific Northwest club scene in the early 80’s. This was even way before the likes of Eric Clapton became one his biggest and most vocal supporters. The fan from Portland said the bands he collaborated with early on weren’t aware of Cray’s singing capabilities as Robert would mostly riff and jam with them on guitar. But his convincing voice, emotions and inflections are still just as strong today as they were back in the 80’s when he become a darling of radio and MTV.
“Aspen, Colorado” from the new record was majestic while “Believe In Yourself” from the same platter was believable and uplifting. The album Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm as expected received a Grammy nomination for the Best Contemporary Blues Album in 2018. Cray has once again worked with producer Steve Jordan and they met up at Royal Studios in Memphis to cut his 18th studio set with members of the legendary Hi Rhythm Section. The collection of impressive originals and covers has received widespread acclaim.
There was also a fair share of raw and dirty tales of lying and cheating not far from where the city offices of Nashville were currently embroiled in their own sad and salacious sex scandal. Still “Poor Johnny” and “Right Next Door (Because of Me)” were as delicious as they were heart-breaking all showcasing Cray’s pronounced mastery on a variety of guitars. At times the bluesman made us listen – really listen – as the volume knobbed was turned down and almost off as Cray played quieter and quieter blues riffs. Often, the use of this technique was quickly contrasted with a more bombastic blues that jolted us out of the trance like state created by his quiet licking.
By the end of the night the Nashville faithful were thrilled even if Cray was practicing his own form of gun control by leaving his biggest hit “Smoking Gun” on the sidelines. There was plenty of evidence that a fine show was left behind in Mid-Tenn as a palpable buzz was heard among those exiting once the lights went up on a three song encore.
Cray’s show remains on the road in the United States with dates across the country scheduled through mid July. In between he’ll be taking the blues down under with an Australian run that will see The Robert Cray Band headline shows in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide in addition to having the top bill at the Blues On Broadbeach Festival on the Gold Coast in May 2018.
Opening for Robert was one-time Ricky Skaggs bassist Scott Mulvahill who was touring in support of his Top Of The Stairs. It’s unusual to see a rockin’ group fronted by a stand up bass player yet Scott emerged and quickly won over the crowded James K. Polk theater before his trio emerged from stage side. Mulvahill was humble and expressive as he ran through a quick set featuring good vocal work from him and fine musical accompaniment from his band. Scott is certainly climbing in the industry and will be one to watch. His “Himalayas” – a song he said he composed while in The Rockies – was alone worth the price of admission and help earned the guys a standing “O” in Music City.
The TPAC is located in the James K. Polk Cultural Center at 505 Deaderick Street in downtown Nashville, occupying an entire city block between 5th and 6th Avenues and Deaderick and Union Streets. The venue has three distinct halls that always feature a quality variety of music, Broadway and cultural events. Upcoming shows include The Fab Faux, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Black Violin and HAIM.