The Paramount Hudson Valley is no stranger to the blues, having hosted one of a handful of NY Blues Hall of Fame induction ceremonies this past fall featuring performances from Commander Cody and Professor Louis and the Crowmatix, among others. The theater itself was even inducted as a great performing arts center in the Blues Hall of Fame. The Paramount lived up to that recognition with an excellent double bill of blues headlined by Robert Cray on March 30th.
The night started off with an opening set by local NY blues artist Nik Rael. Rael, on acoustic guitar, was joined by Joe Plum on electric guitar for an instrumentation that created a well-balanced sound for the blend of blues, soul, rock, and pop that was to follow. As a duo, many of the songs were not too complex but performed with a lot of expression and dynamic, from Rael’s voice to his guitar which carried the set to Plum’s electric riffs and lines that iced the cake. His set included a mix of his original work as well as some covers. One notable cover was of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” where Rael put on an accent to emulate Marley’s voice. Just as Charlie Daniels did with two songs at his show the night before at the Paramount, Rael performed three Dylan tunes that he has on his tribute album Highway 61. Most notable was “All Along The Watchtower,” combining elements of both Dylan’s and Hendrix’s arrangements. Rael’s opening set went beyond the expectations for a warm-up act with an impressive and engaging performance.
After Rael’s opening set, the silhouettes of Robert Cray and his band took to a dimmed stage with much applause. Cray dialed in to the excitement of the crowd to get things going with a solid performance of “Phone Booth.” By the third song, “Right Next Door,” we saw the first of Cray’s rather dynamic, expressive and animated performances of the night, pretending to sing along with his guitar solos and bringing part of his second solo on the song down whisper quiet as fans listened intently.
Unlike some artists that almost seem to make an effort to install a glass wall between themselves and the audience, there was no such barrier that night giving an almost living room like feel at the Paramount. Yes, the cozy quarters of the Paramount with its chest-high stage helped in that regard, but it was really the connection Cray built with the audience that did it. His quick wit led to jokes between songs about the subject of the song – some he would carry on to the next break – and brief exchanges with the audience.
Cray gave a sneak peek, or rather gave us a sneak listen, of several new tracks off his latest album, In My Soul, released on April 1, just two days after the show. He debuted “You Move Me,” “Fine Yesterday,” “What Would You Say,” “Hip Tight Onions,” and a Bobby Blue Bland tune, “Deep In My Soul.” An example of Cray’s humor came when he joked about the new material. “You’ll never know we forgot the songs!” he said citing that no one in the audience would know how the songs were supposed to go. A highlight of the new songs was the band’s first instrumental track, “Hip Tight Onions,” written as a nod to the stylings of Booker T and the MG’s with Cray and bassist Richard Cousins dancing in sync and a more dominant keyboard presence over the other songs.
Throughout the show, it wasn’t hard to miss the chemistry of the band on stage. Whether it was Richard Cousins sharing a moment with drummer Les Falconer (a 2013 addition to the band) as they laid down the groove for a song or Cray connecting ideas with keyboardist Dover Weinberg, the cohesion on stage radiated into the audience.
The combination of Nik Rael and Robert Cray created an unforgettable evening of blues, setting a tone for a theater rebuilding a strong reputation for its musical presence after briefly closing its doors in 2012. It was a truly genuine performance and experience, leaving the crowd eager to hear more from Robert Cray on his next NY appearance, which he will hopefully make on his next tour.
Setlist: Phone Booth, Poor Johnny, Right Next Door, It Doesn’t Show, You Move Me, Won’t Be Comin’ Home, Don’t You Even Care, Fine Yesterday, Chicken In The Kitchen, Bad Influence, What Would You Say, Hip Tight Onions, Forecast Calls For Rain
Encore: A Memo (Nothin’ But Love), Deep In My Soul