Robert Cray's new album, "Take Your Shoes Off," isn't a flashy affair. While that may be a drawback to folks who want their blues-guitar heroes banging, pulling and squealing their axes into cries of modern, by-the-numbers angst, the rest of us can breathe easy in Cray's relaxed groove. This isn't to denigrate the man's patently obvious six-string skills, but to thank him for telling stories in a frank, articulate voice, with the guitar artistry acting as an adjunct instead of a be-all and end-all. Cray is into his maturity now and past the need to prove his technical studhood, even though he can still pull out the chops when it fits the context.
For quite some time, Cray has realized that real blues artistry starts with high-quality songs -- and he is one of the finest writers the genre has had in the past couple of decades. A later-day master of the heartfelt blues ballad, Cray cruises through "That Wasn't Me" and the blues waltz "There's Nothing Wrong." His solo on "What About Me" is the very model of compact, high-energy playing.
On "Take Your Shoes Off," Cray displays his penchant for smart, modern blues-rock.