Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm: Self-Titled (Jay-Vee)

Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm

After forty years and 20 albums, guitar man and certified soul man Robert Cray can do just about anything he wants, so for his latest record he chose to go to the source and dig deep into the roots of the music he loves. Cray traveled to Memphis with his friend, renowned Grammy Award winning producer and drummer Steve Jordan, to make a classic soul and R&B album with the surviving members of Hi Rhythm, the band that helped create that sound at legendary Royal Studios. The sessions features Jordon on drums and Cray on guitar and vocals along with Rev. Charles Hodges (organ and piano), Leroy “Flick” Hodges (bass), and Archie “Hubbie” Turner (keyboards), recreating real funk and certified soul in the studio that is set inside an old theater and has remained unchanged since Al Green cut all those classics for Hi Records fifty years ago.

The eleven-song set includes three new tunes written by Cray and eight remakes of beloved but not well-known tunes by well-known writers. The album opens with Jordon driving a version of Bill Withers’ “The Same Love That Made Me Laugh,” so fat and fleshed out with B3 and strings and sounding as if it was originally from an old 70s recording until Cray’s signature piercing guitar tone joins the mix. Powerful tribute is paid to Memphis soul legend O.V. Wright on the horn-driven version of “You Must Believe in Yourself.” Cray then reinvents “I Don’t Care,” the first of two tunes written by Sir Mac Rice, known for writing “Mustang Sally,” giving them his west coast blues treatment of sleek tenor vocals and four on the floor funk and milking the chorus hook for all it’s worth. Cray chose two Tony Joe White songs for the album and coaxed White to come up from Nashville to sit in. First up is the soul-searching ballad “Aspen, Colorado;” the other is the swirling extended jam “Don’t Steal My Love,” with Jordon digging deep into the groove while the guitars trade around. Cray’s first two original tunes sit in the middle of the set starting with “Just How Low,” a timely grinding political diatribe calling out the man “who wants to build a wall and sit up in his tower,” followed by the more subdued soul rhumba love song “You Had My Heart.” Curiously, Cray splits the 12/8 Rhythm and Blues classic “I’m With You,” from Doo-Wop group The 5 Royales into parts one and two, fading in and out around a vamp for the glorious never ending guitar solo, as if to say just because he couldn’t get enough of it he didn’t want to make us sit through six-plus minutes of joyous self-indulgence.