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Rhythm & Views

Robert Cray

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It's starting to feel as if Robert Cray's band, with its 14th album, has become the Hootie and the Blowfish of early 21st century blues.

Cray is an admirable guitarist--especially in a live context--and a likeable, nonthreatening bandleader. Although he's often called a bluesman, he's primarily a blues-inspired soul crooner, which is most evident when he allows his tenor to become breathy and light, almost like a musical meringue. He and his group play thoughtful, well-crafted and professionally executed tunes that ultimately are tastefully boring.

Minutes after playing Twenty for the second time, I had a hard time remembering most of the songs. The title track is a heartfelt evocation of an American soldier's tragically short stint in Iraq, but the arrangement limps along sluggishly with barely the shadow of a melody. By the way, how often have we heard lately songs about mamas cryin' for their sons off fighting a rich man's war?

Let's see, what else? "That Ain't Love" works adequately as a mid-tempo dance number, infused with hints of funky bayou rock. But that comes from my notes; I couldn't hum its tune if my life depended on it.

"Does It Really Matter?" flirts with the promise of being a smokin' R&B rave-up but ends up stalling for lack of frenzy. Just imagine how this number might've sounded in the hands of a more energetic band, such as the Fleshtones or, to be more contemporary, the North Mississippi Allstars.

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