Robert Cray
Sweet Potato Pie
Mercury 314 534 483-2
There is a feeling of deja vu -- Cray's crisp guitar, his soulful vocals and the Memphis Horns -- when "Nothing Against You," the opening cut on Sweet Potato Pie, kicks in. While not another landmark like 1986's Strong Persuader, Sweet Potato Pie has all the ingredients in place for what we have come to expect from a Cray album: great playing and pleasing, radio-friendly tunes.

Cray fills the album with songs that careen around every corner of the heart, and his singing, much like his last outing, Some Rainy Morning, is moving more and more toward R&B ("Simple Things") with some Southern soul ("Do That For Me") tossed in the mix. He even playfully covers Otis Redding's "Trick or Treat."

There are enough of those echoes of the 1980s in the guitar playing on "Little Birds," "Not Bad for Love" and "I Can't Quit" to evoke those blues ghosts that have haunted audiences in the past. The vocals on "Little Birds" transcend anything he's done in a quite a while, and even the two cuts that keyboard player Jim Pugh contributes, "The One in the Middle" and "Jealous Minds," work seamlessly within Cray's musical vision and themes.

Crossing musical genres in a way that makes boundaries almost invisible has been Cray's specialty. Sweet Potato Pie fulfills his past promise. While we wait for the next full meal, this is one tasty dessert worth trying.

-- John Koetzner

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Boulder, CO, USA.