Personnel: Robert Cray (vocals, guitar); Ron Dziubla (saxophone); Lee Thornberg (trumpet, trombone); Jim Pugh (piano, Hammond b-3 organ); Richard Cousins (bass guitar); Tony Braunagel (drums).
Audio Mixer: Kevin Shirley.
Liner Note Author: Henry Yates.
Recording information: Revolcer Recordings, Thousand Oaks, CA.
Photographers: Jeff Katz; Vincenzo Giammanco.
The differences in Robert Cray albums are subtle but noticeable to fans of the veteran soul-bluesman. He retains the same backing trio on this 2012 release as on 2009's studio disc, with the only major difference in personnel being the addition of noted roots producer Kevin Shirley. Lyrically detailed story ballads about the trials and tribulations of love, with an emphasis on broken relationships, remain his strong suit as song titles such as "Sadder Days," "Fix This," "I'll Always Remember You," "Won't Be Coming Home," and even the album's title imply. Yet there are enough change-ups and excellent songs here to keep the pace varied. Horns that Cray hasn't utilized in a while make a welcome appearance on a few key tunes such as the big-band swing of "I'll Always Remember You" (which seems like a tribute to Ray Charles) and the terrifically melodic, midtempo "Blues Get Off My Shoulder." A little Chuck Berry rocking in the snappy and humorous "Side Dish" shows that this band can crank up the energy when the occasion calls for it. Even if their brand of rock & roll is a little on the clean-cut side, the track has a rawness and good-time feeling that is typically not associated with Cray. But the album's emotional and philosophical centerpiece is the nearly nine-minute "I'm Done Cryin'." This searing, contemporary portrait is of a male protagonist who has lost his home and his job to outsourcing but retains his dignity "because I'm still a man." Shirley adds understated but beautifully arranged strings to emphasize the sheer desperation of the situation then strips them away, leaving just Cray's soulful voice. Add one of the guitarist's patented terse, quivering solos that feels like a crying vocal, and you get a tour de force track that is one of the highlights of Cray's bulging catalog. And with 15 previous albums, that's saying plenty. The description of how a wrecked marriage is revealed in the empty residence a couple left behind in "Great Big Old House" is prime Cray, too, and a worthy successor to any of his other popular busted matrimony songs. Even if the guitarist has worked this terrain plenty of times before, he is still refining and even improving the template. That makes this another quality entry in a catalog of albums over a three-decade-and-counting-year career that has remarkably few weak spots. ~ Hal Horowitz