Tuesday, May 24, 2011

84. Robert Cray, "Right Next Door (Because of Me)" (1986)


This comes from Robert Cray's best-selling, best-known, and probably best album, Strong Persuader. The whole album is good as are several others by Cray well worth tracking down (I like Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and Midnight Stroll quite a bit). I think of this as the album's title song because it contains the deceptively casual throwaway phrase "strong persuader," even though the only top 40 hit from it, and the only one he ever had, is the album opener "Smoking Gun." What I like about "Right Next Door" is the tricky, almost cinematic approach Cray takes to telling a story. Here the story is a version of the familiar blues braggadocio of sexual prowess, but the twist is that the lover man is "listening thru these thin walls" in the apartment next door to a fight that has erupted between the woman he has seduced and "the man that really loves her." "It's because of me," he sings in the chorus, and somehow he is at once both sad and smug about it. As events in the song unfold he is exposed for the charlatan he is. The guitar play is admittedly not up to what Cray is capable of—for that, start with "Smoking Gun," and there's more where that came from all over this album and his entire catalog—but "Right Next Door" may be the one best example of the kind of songs that populate Cray's catalog, thoughtful, intelligent exercises that handily assume a wide variety of characters, situations, and points of view, exploring them with a good deal of surprising and bracing nuance. They are equally rooted in Cray's chosen form, the blues, even as the sophistication of them takes what many consider to be a virtually exhausted musical genre to all kinds of new places.

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