Bluesman Robert Cray has been “groovin’ 4 decades” now, so this isn’t of course the first live recording we’ve heard from him, nor is it likely to be the last. But the double CD/DVD set 4 Nights of 40 Years Live (Provogue Records/Mascot Label Group) may be his most complete so far, featuring songs and performances that span the guitarist and singer’s entire 20-album career, including live versions of tracks off the five-time Grammy Award winner’s very first and latest albums as well as some early festival and TV appearances.
Disc 1 of the set captures Cray and his band – longtime bassist and friend Richard Cousins, keyboardist Dover Weinberg, and drummer Les Falconer – deep in the groove during four recent shows (hence, the 4 nights in the set’s title) at different venues around Los Angeles, starting on the warm, diverse vocals of a horn-accented “I Shiver” before those horns really kick in for a jazzy, “lowdown and funky” version of “I’ll Always Remember You”.
Things only heat up more as the band rolls through such gems as the grooving “Won’t Be Coming Home”, a soulful “Your Good Thing is About to End”, and the swaying “Poor Johnny”, while guest appearances from harmonica player Lee Oskar and vocalist Kim Wilson help to further lift songs like the creeping “Sittin’ on Top of the World” and uptempo soul classic “Wrap It Up” (Sam & Dave, later covered by Wilson’s The Fabulous Thunderbirds), respectively. Perhaps the pinnacle of the first disc, however, is the greasy, deep-grooved “These Things”, a track off Cray’s 1990 Midnight Stroll, which also happens to feature one of this live album’s best guitar solos.
Cap that off with a few more of Cray’s strongest numbers in “Bad Influence”, the higher-pitched “Right Next Door (Because of Me)”, and the bluesy, keyboards- and horns-infused “The Forecast (Calls for Pain)”, among others, and what you have is a superb and entertaining collection that even the most casual of Cray fans will appreciate, thanks not only to Cray’s magnificent guitar work and vocals but also to the tight, talented band that backs him.
Truth be told, we only got to hear the first disc of this two-CD set, but that one alone is probably well worth the price of the collection. We’re guessing that the second CD is at least every bit as good, capturing Cray at a much different point in his career through performances from the 1982 edition of the now-defunct San Francisco Blues Festival and a 1987 Dutch TV show, including then-favorites such as “Smoking Gun” and “Too Many Cooks” (Willie Dixon) – the latter of which appeared on Cray’s 1980 debut Who’s Been Talkin’ – as well as “T-Bone Shuffle”, “I Guess I Showed Her”, and “Still Around”, while the accompanying DVD shows video from both those early performances as well as the four concerts at which the first CD was recorded, along with interviews with Cray and his band and commentary from the likes of Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Keith Richards, Bonnie Raitt, and Jimmie Vaughan.