Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm, “Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm” (Jay-Vee Records)

robert crayBy teaming with the legendary Hi Rhythm band, young Bob is decidedly going old-school. Hi Rhythm was of course the Memphis studio quartet that under the tutelage of producer Willie Mitchell, accounted for most of the classic Al Green, Ann Peebles, Otis Clay and O.V. Wright recordings. Recorded at Mitchell’s Royal Studio, Cray’s opening track is rather “Crayty,” as he creates a smoky minor-key guitar groove and describes yet another relationship crashing down in flames. Then Cray goes to church, fitfully recycling O.V. Wright’s “You Must Believe In Yourself.” Having played on the original, Hi Rhythm really lays down that early ’70s Memphis groove and Cray sings his behind off. There are two playful Sir Mack Rice songs, including “Honey Bad,” where indeed Honey isn’t really all that bad.

Perhaps oddly, there are also a couple of Tony Joe White compositions. But White’s haunting “Aspen, Colorado” is especially effective in a kind of soulful/folky Woody Guthrie kind of way. Cray’s harder R&B side can be heard on the “5” Royales two-sider “I’m With You,” where the Memphis guys really get into it and Cray’s guitar is really slashing. Depending on your political views, the centerpiece here is Cray’s scathing assessment of the guy that lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—”Just How Low.” Cray sums up the views of many folks asking Trump, “United—do you even know what that means?” Overall, another great, enjoyable modern R&B effort. This CD proves this was an ideal pairing. These guys are touring extensively this year so catch them if you can. If you can’t, pick this one up—is a superior listen.