Returning to the Ocean State this month as his band tours in support of its 17th album, “In My Soul,” Robert Cray says his musical life remains rooted in having fun.
With a career that spans four decades of recording and performing, he is now 60, at an age when many begin to slow down. But he has no plans to stop anytime soon.
“Till I fall over,” he said with a laugh when asked how long he sees himself continuing to play. “I’m lucky to be doing it.”
The accomplishments of Cray and his band are considerable. The five-time Grammy winner and recent inductee into the Blues Hall of Fame has recorded more than a dozen albums since the 1986 release of the highly successful and influential “Strong Persuader,” selling millions of copies.
He has been praised by publications such as The New Yorker magazine and Rolling Stone magazine for his guitar playing and style, and has performed and worked alongside such icons as B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Bonnie Raitt and John Lee Hooker.
Cray’s performance in Cranston follows a Valentine’s Day show by Dr. John, another artist rooted in the blues but known for a distinct style and sound. Cray says he sees his place in the musical landscape as “probably more bridging the gap between the blues and R&B” and being “able to go from one to the other.”
“I really enjoy that,” he said.
Creatively, the Robert Cray Band’s process – particularly on the new album – has been one characterized by openness and a willingness to pursue different ideas. For “In My Soul,” Cray said, the group “didn’t really have a concept,” with its members – including bass player Richard Cousins, keyboardist Dover Weinberg and drummer Les Falconer in its newest configuration – instead bringing their own original material to sessions and building the album around those songs.
“I think that it’s good to have everyone else participate and get a little more flavor and color to what we do,” he said. “We’re having fun … everybody gets to participate in the songwriting.”
What resulted was a 10-track album heavy on R&B and soul sounds. Steve Jordan – a Grammy-award winning artist and longtime friend of Cray’s – produced the sessions and helped shape the recording’s direction, suggesting covers of Otis Redding’s “Nobody’s Fault But My Own” and the song “Your Good Thing (Is About to End),” which was a hit for Lou Rawls. There is also a cover of the late Bobby “Blue” Band’s “Deep in My Soul,” which gave the album its name.
The remainder of “In My Soul” is composed of original material, from opening track “You Move Me” to “Pillow,” which will appear as a bonus track on the album’s limited edition CD release.
Thematically, the songs deal with issues of love, loss and contemporary life, including “What Would You Say,” which Cray said is “about making the world a better place” and was inspired by his reaction to events in Syria.
“It’s a response to all that’s going on, from wars to someone outside the supermarket asking for food or for a job. All of that is part of everyday life,” he said. “I was reading about Syria and the gas attack on those children – everybody forgets about kids during war and how horrible it is. So this is just how it came out. I just had to talk about it.”
Cray said the band has played a handful of shows already, and the current tour will take the group across the United States and to Europe in the spring. Falconer is new to the group, while Weinberg is returning after roughly 20 years.
“Everything’s coming together, and we’re having a good time,” said Cray.
The stop in Rhode Island, Cray said, will serve as an opportunity to reconnect with local fans and players who have supported the band over the decades. He cited the relationships built with Roomful of Blues and “different casts of musicians” in the Ocean State over the years, which he said “helped us out tremendously” in terms of building a local audience.
“We used to come through and play Lupo’s a lot,” he said. “We do have people who remember us from back in those days, and we really appreciate it.”
The Robert Cray Band will perform at the Park Theatre, located at 848 Park Ave. in Cranston, at 8 p.m. on Friday, March 21. Tickets are $35 and $45 and available by calling the box office at 467-7275 or visiting at www.parktheatreri.com.
For more information on Cray and his band, visit www.robertcray.com.