The Robert Cray Band
The Robert Cray Band
Genre: Jazz/Blues

Motivated by recent events and inspired by the currents of change, The Robert Cray Band has seized the creative reins to deliver the most ambitious recording of its illustrious career. Featuring 10 songs of tremendous lyrical conviction and musical breadth, Time Will Tell is not only the band's Sanctuary Records debut, it also marks the first-time production pairing of Robert Cray and longtime keyboardist-songwriter Jim Pugh. "We made this album before being signed to any company," Robert explains, "so we felt free to do whatever we wanted. And that's just what we did."
The result of those freewheeling recording sessions is an album that confronts the ethical and artistic challenges of our uncertain age. Time Will Tell opens with "Survivor," a Robert Cray original that somehow reconciles funky Delta blues, lilting Caribbean soul, and compellingly philosophical lyrics. On Jim Pugh's gorgeous "Up in the Sky," Robert sings of eternal love while firing off pyschedelicized electric sitar improvisations. On the foreboding Jim Pugh composition "Distant Shore," Robert and the band dance the apocalypso, warning of impending war while pounding out insistent Latin-rock rhythms. "Time Makes Two" and the aforementioned "Up in the Sky" are punctuated by soaring symphonics courtesy of the Turtle Island String Quartet. "I've always dreamed about strings on an album," Robert says, "but this time, we actually did it."
Time Will Tell also celebrates the growing camaraderie and creative contributions of the entire Robert Cray Band. Composed by drummer Kevin Hayes and sister Bonnie Hayes, "Back Door Slam" is hardcore soul intensified by Robert's reverberant guitar solos and Karl Sevareid's chest-thumping bass. Another Jim Pugh composition, "Your Pal," features the righteous horns of former Sly & the Family Stone alumni Jerry Martini and Cynthia Robinson. Recording engineer Mark Needham (Fleetwood Mac, Michelle Branch, Cake) was instrumental in helping the band achieve the sounds heard on the disc, while celebrated percussionist Luis Conte (Madonna, Ray Charles, Tony Bennett, Arturo Sandoval) provided rhythmic counterpoint throughout.
Yet for all its heady experimentalism, Time Will Tell hews closely to the spirit of insight, candor and deep-felt emotionalism that has always informed the finest roots music. Indeed, just as the history of industrialized America can be traced through the folk and blues classics of the 20th Century, listeners can glean much about our turbulent age from listening to Time Will Tell.
"For me, this album is about current events," Robert says. "You have one song that talks about war, while another song addresses the subject less directly. 'Up in the Sky' is about getting old, and eternal love. Then you have songs with funny little quirks like 'Your Pal' and 'Spare Some Love?' But that's life -- big things mixed up with funny little quirks."
For his part, co-producer, songwriter and keyboardist Jim Pugh says Time Will Tell was born of an all-things-considered approach. "We tried to create an environment where everybody felt free to explore new ideas. For myself I tried not to play things that I knew had worked in the past or that I was comfortable with but searched instead for different ways. We all challenged ourselves to find new ways to play that were not just proven and convenient. It was a new way of doing things and it was really fun."
"I was born in a city, a city with no shame
And when I play guitar, they all know my name"
-- from "Back Door Slam," The Robert Cray Band, 2003
Since their 1986 breakthrough album Strong Persuader, The Robert Cray Band has courted controversy without once consciously seeking it. Strong Persuader's insinuating neo-soul sound was such a revelation, it helped prompt an '80s blues revival and transformed Robert into a pop radio, MTV and VH1 staple. Peer recognition grew with each subsequent recording. By the time the new millennium had dawned, the band had earned a double platinum album and two gold albums, and Robert had been honored with 5 Grammy Awards, 11 Grammy nominations, and countless other honors.
But while fans worldwide were enthralled by Robert's gospel-inflected vocals and bluesy songs, some self-styled "purists" were confounded by Robert's progressive approach -- a curious state of affairs Time Will Tell will probably do little to change. "I anticipate some people will be surprised by this album, but that's something we've experienced since the very beginning," Robert says. "We've never done a complete blues album, yet we've been tagged a blues band for the longest time by some.
"I like listening to a lot of different music, and I know it's the same for the rest of the guys in the band. Driving around on tour, we'll listen to anything -- Brazilian music, old funk, jazz, rock 'n' roll, organ trios and everything else under the sun. So the diversity you hear on this record is just us being ourselves. Yes, we still have a footing in R&B, but we enjoy and play a lot of other things. We hold no allegiance to one bag."
Robert's intuitive take on roots music certainly hasn't cost him his credibility. To the contrary, the acclaimed singer, songwriter and guitarist has been recruited to perform on recordings by Eric Clapton, B.B. King and John Lee Hooker, among others. In addition to recording with each of those artists, he has also guested on stage with all of them as well as Chuck Berry, Keith Richards, and The Rolling Stones. As a writer, Cray's songs have been covered by Albert King, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Del McCoury, and even Tony Bennett (whose 2003 Grammy winning CD "Playing With My Friends" is named for the title song that Robert co-wrote).
With a recording career spanning almost 25 years, conventional wisdom states that The Robert Cray Band should be fading quietly into the musical sunset. So it comes as a pleasant surprise that the band has released its most ambitious album to date. Time Will Tell opens a whole new chapter for The Robert Cray Band, introducing a fresh sound that is sure to win new fans, and make existing fans proud of this unique step forward.
"There were times during the making of this record when I wasn't sure if certain ideas or sounds would fit," Robert says, "but I kept my mouth shut and just let things fall as they would. I think that's what you have to do, otherwise things can be quite tedious and boring. And now I'm excited, because I really think we have a good record here. It's almost like starting afresh, like we're a new band."

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The Robert Cray Band
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Cahors Blues Festival, Cahors
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La Laiterie, Strasbourg
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La Coopérative de Mai, Clermont-Ferrand
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