Robert Cray ‘Robert Cray and Hi Rhythm’ (Jay-Vee) 4/5

Soul-blues man extraordinaire does the logical thing and devotes a whole project to rekindling the classic Hi Sound of the early-mid 1970s that was personified by Otis Clay, Syl Johnson and Ann Peebles, and not forgetting the daddy of them all, Al Green. The results are predictably excellent with what is left of the original Hi band members being supplemented by the neo-soul brass of the Royal Horns, and the sound, recorded at Willie Mitchell’s studio, is indeed an authentic and deliciously tasty Memphis soul-blues stew. The gatefold sleeve opens up to reveal a mural on a wall which reads, ‘I love soul’, under which Cray and band members hover. It pretty much sums up what this project is all about. A major guest in guitarist-singer-songwriter Tony Joe White features on two songs and adds just the right dose of swamp blues with a deeply soulful groove. Stand out tracks include the wonderful heavy bass line and percussion of, ‘You must believe in yourself’, while the understated delivery to a Bill Withers opus, ‘The same love that made me laugh’, is classic fodder for Cray to interact on with additional brass and guitar solo. White and Cray combine on the lovely, melancholic ballad written by the former, ‘Aspen, Colorado’, and White is still a wordsmith of some distinction judging by this excellent effort. Three originals by Cray round off a strong album all round and there are some inspirational gospel harmonies at play on the two-part, ‘I’m with you’, the second part of which ends the album on a high note with some gorgeous blues guitar. A recent UK tour has by his long-term fans and this new album is only likely to increase his flock of devotees further.

Tim Stenhouse