Robert Cray takes aim at the Bush administration in the title track to his fourteenth album, Twenty, due May 24th. “‘Twenty’ is the way I feel about the move into Iraq instead of going after Osama Bin Laden,” he says. “In the song, a young man joins the service after 9/11, questions the whole thing and winds up not coming home. Somebody was duped.”
While Twenty echoes the political sentiments of its predecessor, Time Will Tell, the album finds the bluesman venturing into new musical territories. “We decided to do it a little bit different this time,” Cray says. “We cover a few more flavors. It’s bluesier, jazz-tinged. And that soul thing is undeniable.”
After crossing over into the pop mainstream with “Smoking Gun” from 1986’s Strong Persuader, Cray’s soul-infused blues has become the bridge between traditional and contemporary blues — much to the chagrin of purists. “I did my phase where I didn’t listen to anything but blues,” he says. “But there’s a lot of good music out there. If I want some reggae or some old bossa nova, I’m gonna put in on. I can listen to Howlin’ Wolf right afterwards and still groove.”
Cray’s influences can be heard throughout the new songs, including the ska-reggae fused “Poor Johnny,” a funky tune “about a guy who gets caught cheatin’,” and the rock-tinged “Does It Really Matter.” But it’s the lowdown ballad “It Doesn’t Matter,” that reflects Cray’s affection for the blues.
“It’s the emotion,” Cray says of his first musical love. “After the song’s over you go, ‘That person understands what I’m talking about. I’m not the only one living this life.’ That’s what the blues is about: healing.”
Cray and his band plan to tour the U.S. this June before heading to Europe.