Robert Cray, 'Strong Persuader' (1986)
Growing up on the blues, Robert Cray got his start in the Northwest, playing for a time with Albert Collins and even appearing as the bassist for the Animal House band Otis Day and the Knights. Rather than confine himself to blues purist's rigid structures, he branched out into R&B and soul with a glossy guitar tone that contrasted him with his distortion-loving peers. He didn't sacrifice his chops for the poppier sound, though, leading to the mainstream success of his fifth album, Strong Persuader. Filled with tales of heartache like "I Wonder," new-school juke-joint cuts like "Smoking Gun," and the sultry "Right Next Door (Because of Me)," which tells the story of him breaking up a couple after the woman just became "another notch" on his guitar. The keyboards and polish are pure Reagan-era, while Cray's storytelling and guitar work are timeless – even if the Eighties blues boom seems so much farther away than it actually is.