1990, Robert Cray was a few years removed
from the monster success of Strong Persuader.
His follow-up, 1988’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,
had been a disappointment, which in a way could have
been expected. Its predecessor would have been hard
to top no matter what, but other than the title
track, there was little memorable about it.
Those who had followed Cray’s career from the
beginning wondered if it was just a bump in the road
or if possibly he had hit a creative wall of sorts.
When Midnight Stroll hit the racks in the
late summer of 1990, everyone breathed a sigh of
relief. Young Bob was back with one of his best
What was different about this release? Though Cray
had always played the blues from the soul side of
the street, this disc featured a more pronounced
lean toward soul. Cray’s vocals were as sweet as
ever, but on some tracks he definitely roughens
things up. On tracks like the opener, “The Forecast
(Calls For Pain),” he added a bit of growl to his
singing, at least more so than most of his previous
recordings. On the next cut, the Cray-penned “These
Things,” driven by his rhythm section (Richard
Cousins – bass, Kevin Hayes – drums, Tim Kaihatsu –
guitar) and by the Memphis-steeped keyboards of
Jimmy Pugh, Cray really goes to town, testifying,
roaring, and even screaming a couple of times.
Many of the songs rank with Cray’s best all time.
“The Forecast (Calls For Pain)” was the latest
masterpiece from Dennis Walker. Like several other
great tracks, it was made even better by the
presence of the Memphis Horns (Andrew Love – tenor
sax, Wayne Jackson – trumpet/trombone). Listed as
guest stars on Cray’s previous two albums, the Horns
got equal billing with the band this time around.
“Bouncin’ Back,” another Walker original, had all
the flavor of a Stax recording from twenty-five
years earlier (it was, in fact, later covered by
Memphis soul queen Ann Peebles, as well as Texas
soul man, Ernie Johnson).
“Consequences,” written by Kevin Hayes, Bonnie
Hayes, and David Nagler, ranks with Cray’s best
ever, on a level with anything he did on Strong
Persuader. A lot of this has to do with Cray’s
performance, from the muscular guitar work to the
vocals that perfectly capture the anguish of the
lyrics. The Memphis Horns drive the track to an even
Cray’s own compositions continued to improve
considerably. “These Things,” the simmering “The
Things You Do To Me,” and the intense “Move A
Mountain” rank with some of his best work. He also
collaborated with Walker on the funky title track
that closes the album.
I’m not sure how well Midnight Stroll did
with the record-buying public. To me, it ranks with
his best recordings, certainly just below Strong
Persuader and Bad Influence, and just
above False Accusations and Shame + a Sin.
Certainly, it’s one of the most spirited efforts
Cray has produced so far. He has continued to mine
the soul side of blues on subsequent albums, but few
of them have been able to match Midnight Stroll
for sheer intensity and fire from start to finish.
--- Graham Clarke