Mercury Records, 1990
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/06/1997
Back in the mid-'80s, Robert Cray was touted as one of the fastest-rising young voices of the blues world. His album Strong Persuader became his ticket to fame, and he has yet to equal the selling power he had at that time.
I don't know why Cray has been touted as a bluesman; his 1990 effort Midnight Stroll shows the heart of a soul singer trapped in the body of a blues guitarist. While this album may not have been as publicly praised, it remains one of Cray's best works.
From the opening notes of "The Forecast (Calls For Pain)" you can hear the Motown-like stirrings in Cray's soul. His voice is much more suited for that type of music than hard-core blues. Plus, Cray always seems like such a happy person. (Maybe that's why "Bleeding Gums" Murphy said in The Simpsons that the blues "wasn't about feeling bad," but about "making other people feel worse.") Cray's guitar work sings like only a Fender Stratocaster can, and he is a talented musician, but it is the soul in his song that makes this music so special.
Of course, the addition of the Memphis Horns helps a bit, though at times they tend to distract rather than complement. On "Consequences," they tend to hide the beauty of the track, while on "My Problem" they bring out the pathos of Cray's vocals. In fact, rarely has Cray sounded more rooted in the blues than on this track.
Cray even tends to move into the world of jazz on "Labor Of Love" - the shuffle of the track brings a new positive life to the album. Songs like "Bouncin' Back" show the happy side of blues - Cray teaches anyone willing to listen ust how enjoyable blues can be.
Midnight Stroll has a few chinks in its armor, however. The title track is the most blues-oriented of the bunch, but it is a weak track. Likewise, "Walk Around Time" is one that Cray tries hard on, but the song never quite clicks. With the exception of "Consequences," the second half of the album is a shade weaker.
However, Cray is able to pull everything together and make a very enjoyable album. He may not be a "bluesman" in the purest sense of the word, but Midnight Stroll is a great album to serve as a primer for the term "crossover," as well as an example of how it sounds when it is done correctly.