ROBERT CRAY IN MY SOUL "First and foremost, the stories are where my heart lies," says Robert Cray. "In the blues guitar thing, most of the time, you carve out the section for the solo and that's really what the song is based on. And I love that, there's a time for that, but then I have to get back into the meat and bones of storytelling." With his seventeenth studio album, In My Soul, the five-time Grammy winner (and 15-time nominee) reasserts his position as one of his generation's great musical storytellers—this time steeped in the down-home sound and rich emotion of Southern Soul, yet never straying far from his incomparable guitar mastery. Produced by Steve Jordan, whose long list of credits includes extensive work with Keith Richards and John Mayer, the album blends funky originals with surprising covers, and captures a new configuration of the Robert Cray Band: long-time bass player Richard Cousins is joined by keyboardist Dover Weinberg (returning to the group, with which he played in the 1970s and '80s) as well as new drummer Les Falconer. Robert Cray is widely recognized as one of the greatest guitarists of our time. The New Yorker recently called him “one of the most reliable pleasures of soul and blues for over three decades now.“ He has written or performed with everyone from Eric Clapton to Stevie Ray Vaughan, from Bonnie Raitt to John Lee Hooker, and in 2011, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. But when it comes time for a new recording, Cray remains as open as ever to pure creativity. "In my recollection, we have never sat down and decided what kind of record we're going to make," he says. "This time, I knew we were going to do an R&B thing, because that's what we've done whenever we work with Steve, but we didn't have a concept—that develops because of the songs and the people who play on it." The first song they worked on for In My Soul was a Booker T & the MGs-style instrumental, written by Cousins and Hendrix Ackle; making no secret of the inspiration, they gave it the winking title "Hip Tight Onions" (as in the MGs three biggest hits—"Hip Hug-Her," "Time is Tight," and "Green Onions"). "That really helped set the tone," says Cray. "We ran that song for a bit, continuously playing that groove, and we got a feel for each other, and for Steve, and for a new tune. And from there, we fell into this real funk feel." Jordan, whom Cray describes as "almost a fifth member of the band," proposed a couple of covers—Otis Redding's "Nobody's Fault But My Own" and "Your Good Thing (Is About to End)," initially recorded in 1966 by Stax artist Mable John but later turned into a hit for Lou Rawls. "When I think of Robert Cray, I think of a great singer," says the producer. "Most people gravitate to his guitar playing because he's such a gunslinger, but I don't. He's got so much soul it's ridiculous. 'Good Thing' just sounded like Robert to me—it has a touch of jazz, and that strong, Chicago-based R&B in the Lou Rawls version. With the Otis tune, I just thought, 'Robert can eat this up,' and not a lot of people can do justice to that vocal." Cray countered with the idea of doing a song that would ultimately give the album its title, "Deep in My Soul" by the late Bobby "Blue" Bland. "I didn't want to change it—just do it pretty straight up as a tribute to Bobby, who was one of my real heroes," says Cray. The bulk of In My Soul, though, is made up of original material, composed by various members of the band. The album opens with the hard-charging "You Move Me," instantly identifiable as classic Cray, with his signature slicing guitar leads woven throughout. "I Guess I'll Never Know," co-written by drummer Falconer with Jeff Paris and Rick Whitfield, adds a slipperier groove to the mix, in the style of Willie Mitchell's productions for Hi Records. Bonus track "Pillow," available on a limited edition CD version of the album, began as a melodic snippet written by the late session guitarist Jerry Friedman, which Cray extended (complete with a sitar-like guitar effect) into what Steve Jordan calls "a '70s-Blaxploitation movie kind of vibe—it's Robert as Shaft!" "All the originals that came in were really good, and that's not always the case," says the producer. "It sure made my job easier—I just had to make sure the arrangements and sound and groove were right." Perhaps most notable is "What Would You Say?," an aching tune that finds Cray longing for a better world. "It's just a response to all that's going on—wars, disease, or just someone standing outside the supermarket asking for food or for a job. That's all part of everyday life, and I just had to talk about it." In My Soul includes plenty of Cray's blazing guitar work, which Rolling Stone recently said “introduced a new generation of mainstream rock fans to the language and form of the blues.” But he maintains that he's most excited about the way in which this project presents the complete Robert Cray Band. "I like that I got to play as part of a unit, as a quartet," he says. "That, to me, is just as much fun as playing a solo. There are lots of different grooves and styles on this record, and we had to give each song its own identity. That's where we're at as a band—the most important part is to lay down a groove that's going to carry the story. The solos are just icing on the cake." This year marks Robert Cray's fortieth anniversary as a musician, and with In My Soul, he is celebrating in style. He notes, with pride and with some amusement, that he continues to see new, younger faces in his audience. "There's a younger generation now whose parents turned them on to our music," he says. "It reminds me of when I was young and going to see Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, all the blues I could. It is kind of funny to be in the position of being the older generation now. But I'm just going to continue to do what we do. I can only do what I know, and we'll see what happens." -- IN MY SOUL TRACK-BY-TRACK You Move Me—"That's just a bluesy, upbeat type of tune, talking about my loved one, talking about the way she does me. It's a fun, simple, straight-ahead square beat, a nice rocking tune." Nobody's Fault But Mine—"An Otis Redding cover. All of us in the band, we grew up listening to that kind of music, and it's pretty dear to our hearts." Steve Jordan: "I just thought, 'Robert can eat this one up.' It's got the guitar stuff, but also the singing. Not a lot of people can do justice to that vocal. Also, we were looking for song to get vocals out of Les, so we approached this Otis tune like it was a Sam and Dave song." Fine Yesterday—"I'd been working on this over the summer and fall, and just pieced it together. It kind of has the feel of an early '60s thing, a song like 'Sitting in the Park.' I thought I would just be bold and go, 'What makes you think you could do something like that?'" Your Good Thing (Is About To End)—"That was Steve's idea. The cool thing is that when he mentioned it, I said 'Fantastic!'— I always loved that tune, and Dover happens to be one of the biggest Lou Rawls fans ever, so I knew it was going to go over big. But Steve didn't want to do just that version; it's really a combination of the different versions, the original by Mable John and also the OV Wright version. Steve said, 'Let's you and me go cut it,' and just the two of us went in and did it. We didn't rehearse, just played it and tried to make it as funky as possible." I Guess I'll Never Know—"A song about somebody losing their loved one. The cool thing about this song is that it's got a really funky beat, and it's co-written by our drummer, Les Falconer. It's nice and funky, almost reminiscent of a Hi Records, Willie Mitchell production." Hold On—"This one was written by Richard Cousins and Hendrix Ackle. We played it from the music they gave us, but then we changed up the lyric a little to make it more of a '70s Philly kind of thing. It's a departure from the Memphis sound, but still in that classic soul thing." What Would You Say—"A song that's about making the world a better place. Saying 'Can we do that? Can we help homeless people, can we try to cure diseases?' 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. I was reading about Syria and the gas attack on those children—everybody forgets about kids during war and how horrible that is. So this is just how it came out, I just had to talk about it." Hip Tight Onions—"I don't think we've ever recorded an instrumental before. This was penned by our bass player, Richard Cousins, and his writing friend Hendrix Ackle, and it's a tribute to Booker T and the MGs." You're Everything—"Just a love tune, talking about how my world has changed because of who I'm with." Deep in My Soul—"I knew I wanted to do Bobby Bland tune, and I was banging my head as to which one. Then I found one CD with a massive amount of Bland songs on it, and I hadn't heard this one for a long time. I brought it in, and everybody loved it. I didn't want to change it—just do it pretty straight up as a tribute to Bobby, who was one of my real heroes. He came to see us before he passed, about a year and a half ago, he came to a show with his wife and son and just stood in the wings, and it was such a big honor, really cool." Steve Jordan: "We had nine or ten songs recorded, but we didn't really have a deep blues song—I wanted to get that feel, something riveting that lays the gauntlet down. Robert pulled out this song, and I had never heard it before. It was haunting and very deep, and the way he sang it, I got chills. You'd be hard pressed to think you could get as good as Bland did, but Robert gave a really extraordinary performance. Put that one on and you just have to shut up!" Pillow—"Steve had sent me a piece of music by a guy named Jerry Friedman, a great session player who played on 'Supernatural Thing' and a bunch of other stuff. It wasn't complete, there was no lyric, so we just kind of put it together—we started from music we had, tried to make it funky, came up with the idea for an electric sitar sound. It sounds great as instrumental, and we may still put it out like that, but the original title was 'You're My Pillow,' so we just kind of worked a story around that."