I’m not entirely clear if I knew about Robert Cray before “Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll” or not . . . but it was definitely around that time – this album came out in late 1986, the movie in 1987. This album, which was actually his fifth, got a huge amount of attention, and for a while it looked like Robert Cray might be the crossover artist who brought new, younger audiences to the blues.He became ubiquitous on the blues scene, endorsed Robert Cray model Stratocasters, recorded and played with many of the blues greats. It seemed like he was everywhere, bringing what seemed like an accessible ’80s version of the Chicago blues to new audiences.
And this album got rave reviews, hit #13 on the Billboard 200 (remarkable for a blues album), and was later ranked #42 on Rolling Stone’ list of the 100 greatest albums of the ’80s. I bought it new, to be sure, probably at Record Theater in Syracuse — and I’m feeling more and more certain that I already knew Robert Cray before his performance in the Chuck Berry concert movie, “Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll.”
I’m also becoming more and more certain that this is probably the first modern blues record I ever bought. (I did have a beloved edition of Sonny Boy Williamson with the Yardbirds, which I’d had since about 1980.)
The problem with listening to it now is that “of the ’80s” part. The production is pure ’80s applied to a blues band — it’s not bad, but it sounds a little dated. The songs are all clean, straightforward blues, and Cray’s guitar work is craftsmanlike, not showy. As one of my earlier blues experiences, this was a nice gateway. But as I got more and more into the blues in the later ’80s and especially the ’90s, this album fell off my radar. And re-listening to it now, while it’s perfectly good, it also doesn’t have any spark for me.
So, back on the shelf it goes.