Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm at Loflin Yard

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Robert Cray brought his friend and Grammy award-winning producer, Steve Jordan, to Memphis to record his new record, Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm. As the album’s name suggests, Cray worked with Hi Rhythm as the backing band for the 11-track-long blues-and-soul LP, and it was recorded at the late Willie Mitchell’s Royal Recording Studio. Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm, will be released April 28th on Jay-Vee Records, and Cray is bringing his band to Loflin Yard this Tuesday, March 21st as part of the tour in support of the album.
Cray has spent the last 40 years recording more than 20 blues and soul albums, five of which have been Grammy award-winners, and to say that he knows his way around a guitar fret board and a soul hook would be an egregious understatement. Cray played on the Chuck Berry tribute concert film Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll at Keith Richards’ invitation. The guitarist has played with John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, and Eric Clapton, and he was one of the blues legends to jam out on “Sweet Home Chicago” with Stevie Ray Vaughan at what would be Vaughan’s final performance. Now Cray has added the Memphis soul legends of Hi Rhythm — Reverend Charles Hodges, on organ and piano, Leroy “Flick” Hodges, on bass, and the Hodges brothers’ cousin, Archie “Hubbie” Turner, on keyboards — to his impressive list of musical collaborators, and the result is nothing less than delicious, a slice of Southern-friend soul.

Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm could easily serve as a soul music appreciation starter kit. The album opens with Cray’s interpretation of Bill Withers’ “The Same Love That Made Me Laugh,” and the drums drive an insistent beat, proving that Cray knows the kick drum is the heartbeat of every soul song. After Cray counts the song in, the tasteful organ flourishes are right in tune with the best that classic Southern soul music has to offer, and the strings swell, calling to mind the production of ’70s-era Stax recordings. The 11 songs on Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm touch on all the staples of soul. Dreamy ballads are on display alongside the Sam Cooke-style piano shuffle of “I’m with You, Pt. 1” and the psychedelic blues of “Don’t Steal My Love,” but no matter the atmosphere of the particular song, Cray’s impressive guitar work and soulful, slightly rasped vocals unite the songs.

Both in technique and tone, Cray’s guitar playing seems to take some cues from the legendary licks of Stax Records’ own guitar prodigy, Albert King. Cray’s delivery is clean and crisp, using little embellishment besides the telltale bent and pinched notes blues guitarists use to make their instruments wail and moan. And Cray does indeed make his guitar cry, wailing on each song over a lush bed of organs, bass, and drums.

Hosting local legends like Mark Edgar Stuart and Southern Avenue, Loflin Yard has become a destination venue for bands with a distinctly Memphis sound, making it the perfect location for Cray’s Tuesday-night concert. Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm just completed the first leg of their tour, and at the end of April, they will head to the U.K. for two weeks of shows in support of the new album. If the new album is any indication, Cray’s concert at Loflin Yard may offer the perfect shot of soul before he and Hi Rhythm fly across the pond to finish their tour. After all, Memphis and soul music go together like, well, spring nights and open-air, downtown venues.

Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm (with Steve Jordan), Tuesday, March 21st at Loflin Yard, 9 p.m.




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