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Robert Cray has never equaled the commercial heights he reached with 1986's classic Strong Persuader. One of the decade's most well-crafted and soulful song cycles and one of the few legitimate crossover blues records of the last couple of decades, Strong Persuader would be hard for anyone to top. But in the decade and a half since that peak, the California-based triple threat (writer/guitarist/singer) has built a legacy that makes him one of his era's signal blues artists. Two steps from the blues in the Bobby Bland tradition (meaning two steps in the direction of Southern soul music), Cray's style is consistent and consistently rewarding. His latest, Shoulda Been Home, is a nod to Memphis soul, and this week Cray will be in the city performing on Monday, September 3rd, at the Memphis Botanic Garden. Opening act and local blues phenom Alvin Youngblood Hart's take on the music is as wide-ranging as Cray's is tightly focused, but the two should make for a fine double bill.

On Saturday, September 1st, Shangri-La Records will celebrate the release of Playing For a Piece of the Door: A History of Memphis Garage and Frat Bands in Memphis, 1960-1975, a book that comes with a companion CD. The release concert will reunite several prominent local garage-rock bands of the era, with currently scheduled performers including Jim Dickinson and The Catmandu Quartet, The Guilloteens, The Rapscallions, The Castels, The Coachmen, and B.B. Cunningham of the Hombres. Show begins at 3 p.m. at Shangri-La.

-- Chris Herrington

Could I be more excited about a double bill of local musicians? No, I could not. Automusik, that digitized trio of rockin' robots, will be opening for Shelby Bryant (the musical mad scientist who invented Cloud Wow Music) at the Hi-Tone CafŽ on Friday, August 31st.

For those who have spun Automusik's disc The Statistical Probability of Automusik and found it wanting, all I can do is say, "See them live!!!" That's right, three exclamation points -- count 'em. Their winking Kraftwerk-meets-agitprop-meets-Samuel Beckett take on everything from hardware to babies to beach parties is the most innovative and interesting thing to appear on the Memphis scene in the last couple of decades. The digital animation that syncs up perfectly with Automusik's onstage antics is brilliant, amazingly funny, and surprisingly insightful and self-aware. Who knew that a flat affect could be so exciting? Bryant (the key player at the gates of dawn?) is an off-kilter wordsmith whose best work can stand up against Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein. He has built himself a cozy musical home in a sweetly psychedelic landscape where J.S. Bach has secret midnight rendezvous with Syd Barrett. Bryant plays so seldomly that missing even one performance is a crime.

An early heads-up for fans of American Deathray Music (formerly Deathray, formerly American Deathray). Those glam-punks will be having a record-release party on Friday, Sept 7th, at 2282 Park Ave. More to come on this highly anticipated event next week. -- Chris Davis

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