Some Rainy Morning
by Jesse Garon
Robert Cray has been one of the finest rhythm and blues guitarists of the last decade. He came awfully close to breaking through to mainstream popularity in the late '80s with "Smoking Gun", but the audience of what was then the prototype of today's alternative radio didn't fully embrace him at that point. Maybe it's because Cray has resolutely remained an R&B musician. Whatever the reasons, Cray hasn't suffered artistically for it. His guitar playing and vocals remain as strong as ever. The first single from this album, "Moan", is a particularly strong example of the Cray sound, but other songs ("Steppin' Out", "Little Boy Big") also offer a good look at a man who has paid his dues and reaped the rewards. Ironically, the dynamics of alternative radio has shifted enough since "Smoking Gun" that Cray's current songs probably can crossover from R&B radio to adult alternative formats without any complications. Good. It's about time more people caught up with Cray.
Head Out to the Drive-In
Chris Isaak's Forever Blue captures the right sound.
by Jesse Garon
It isn't too hard to see what David Lynch found so interesting about Chris Isaak's music when he featured it in Wild at Heart. Isaak's "look and feel" is similar to qualities found in certain Lynch films - a very sleek and polished surface which offers brief glimpses into the emotional turmoil that lies underneath. At least, that's how it seemed when Isaak started out. Over the course of time, it almost feels as if he has begun to concentrate on the surfaces, becoming a pastiche of that type of early rock music typified by Roy Orbison, but also incorporating bits of early Elvis and Jerry Lee. Even the emotional resonances are merely elements of the well-crafted exterior of the song, which maintains a blankness underneath.
That isn't meant as a slam against Forever Blue, by any means. Pastiche is good, especially when you can pull it off effectively, and Chris Isaak is one of the best and the slickest at what he does. It's conceivable that his popularity over the last four years has been a factor in the resurgence of rockabilly; by recreating the Orbison sound so effectively, he may have helped spark an interest in the music of that period, paving the way for other bands. At any rate, the quality of his material is certain. It's hard to imagine most of the cuts on this album being played on contemporary radio, but a song like "Somebody's Crying", with Isaak's high-pitched wailing chorus, could conceivably be dropped into the midst of an oldies format with casual listeners being none the wiser. In addition to "Somebody's Crying", songs like "Things Go Wrong" and "Goin' Nowhere" demonstrate the singer's remarkable talent for mimicry. There's also the blues-bop-a-lula that kicks off the record, "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing", which will probably come as a surprise to people who simply associate Isaak with ethereal ballads, thanks to its aggressive guitar work and Isaak's low growl on the refrain. All things considered, Forever Blue is a fun record, the kind of tape that makes you want to get a big car with monster tailfins and head out to the drive-in looking for some action. And if you find the right girl, you've already got the perfect music for necking.