Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

The Robert Cray Band: Strong Persuader [Mercury, 1986]
At thirty-three, Cray is a mature multithreat talent: fearless formal innovator, brainy bandleader, terse yet fluent guitarist, and--amazingly, given where he started--the most authoritative singer to emerge from blues since Bland and King. Add an array of gems as perfectly realized as Randy Newman's 12 Songs and you have not just a great blues album but a great album. Cray's sexual roles range from the good-time man of "Nothing but a Woman" to the cuckold-turned-predator of "New Blood" to the suspicious schmuck of Dennis Walker's outrageous "I Guess I Showed Her," who bests the woman he caught "having lunch with some new guy" by abandoning her to the house, the car, and no him. But it's the remorseful lust of the title character, who sits listening impassively through thin apartment walls as the woman he's just chalked up breaks with her husband, that dominates a cold-eyed country-influenced record occupying uncharted territory on the blues side of soul--full of feeling, yet chary of soul's redemptive promise. A+