In the 80s Robert Cray codified his trademark (if sometimes uneasy) blend of 12-bar blues, 60s southern soul, pop rock, and R & B, paving the way for a generation of latter-day blues fusionists. His latest, Time Will Tell (Sanctuary), is a characteristically eclectic outing. On "Survivor," for instance, you can hear shades of New Orleans in the funky up-tempo march beat and campy Hollywood noir in the minor-key piano swells; Cray's bluesy guitar leads and fatback-seasoned soul chording bind everything together. "Spare Some Love?," on the other hand, is a straight-up soul number with a crisp groove that leaves him room to wring every drop of sensuality and longing from his dusky baritone croon. Cray has a penchant for overreaching that sometimes sabotages his good intentions (the sitar-clogged "Up in the Sky" should've been left in the bargain bin at the Summer of Love clearance sale), and his melodies sometimes meander through changes and modulations without ever seeming to arrive anywhere. But his solos almost always make up for such lapses: On "Your Pal," he creates startling new harmonic nooks and crannies with tickling string bends and curlicues that play through the chord structure as though he's thinking like a horn section. Even "Back Door Slam," for which he adopts an unconvincing street-tough persona, is redeemed by a hellish, reverb-drenched guitar break that makes it clear he's tweaking, as much as invoking, the cliched image of the badass bluesman. And on "Time Makes Two," a showcase for his singing at its most nuanced, his leads cut through portentous orchestral string washes, rescuing the song from bathos with their passion and precision. Friday, September 5, 8 PM, Pavilion, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.