Larry McCray: Blues Without You Review

I became aware of Larry McCray back in the early ’90s with the releases Ambition in 1990 and Delta Hurricane in 1993. I was immediately a fan of Larry with his powerful baritone voice and impressive guitar work. It was obvious to me and a lot of blues fans around the globe that Larry was a force to be reckoned with. Larry’s career seemed to be off to a great start with several releases on Virgin / Point Blank Records, as well as House of Blues Records… then what appeared to be nothing. As quickly as Larry seemed to burst onto the blues scene, he then quietly seemed to fade away equally as fast. With a handful of self-released indie projects, he continued pressing forward, but for the most part, his career seemed to have stalled. Even as a fan of Larry, I lost touch with what he was doing over the years. None of his releases were commercially available anymore, nor are any of his releases currently available on streaming platforms. Most artists would have given up at this point and transitioned to another chapter in their life, but not Larry. Larry is a true artist and has continued to hone his craft and become the best he can be. He never stopped writing, playing, or performing.

Fast forward roughly 30 years, and Larry has made the record of a lifetime and the best project of his career. This didn’t randomly just happen by chance or coincidence. Just like Larry is a force to be reckoned with, the passion and determination of two other individuals willed this release into existence. I’m talking about the powerhouse production team of Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith. Joe will be releasing Blues Without You on March 25th on his Keeping the Blues Alive label. K.T.B.A. Records has become a vehicle to help out artists who haven’t received the opportunities or recognition deserved within the music business and blues industry as a whole. Larry is a perfect addition to the label.

“In the Spirit of B.B. King, Luther Allison, and Little Milton, Larry is among the Greats! It’s now up to the world to rediscover him. He’s been here all along.” – Joe Bonamassa

In addition to being two of the greatest artists in the genre today, together Joe and Josh have produced projects on Reese Wynans, Eric Gales, Joanne Shaw Taylor, Joanna Connor, and Jimmy Hall. For Blues Without You, they have assembled a world class band to help build the foundation for this release.  The record features Joe and Josh on guitar, Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame member Reese Wynans on keys, Travis Carlton on bass, Lamar Carter on drums, and horn and string arrangements were composed by Calvin Turner. The project was recorded at East West Studios in L.A., Ocean Way Studios in Nashville, and Rust Studios in Detroit. The production, songwriting, and performances on this record are top notch, all while showcasing Larry’s seemingly effortless vocals and blazing guitar licks.

” I couldn’t be prouder of Larry and the record we made. He is a true legend, the last of a generation and an artist without peer. We owed it to him to make the best record we possibly could.” – Josh Smith

The release starts off with the lead single on the record “Arkansas”. It’s an autobiographical song about Larry’s upbringing in rural Arkansas before moving to Michigan as a child. The song showcases Larry’s instantly recognizable voice and guitar tone. Within a few phrases of the song you realize very quickly that Larry hasn’t lost a step vocally or in his ability to play.

“Breaking News” is the second single off the record and has a throwback Curtis Mayfield feel that has a very infectious groove which is accented with great string and horn arrangements. Lyrically the song would appear to be straight from today’s news feeds and is a statement about the current state of society. This track shows the diversity of Larry’s musical style and abilities as an artist.

“Down to the Bottom” features Warren Haynes on slide guitar, who also wrote the classic “Soulshine” which first appeared on Larry’s Delta Hurricane release. The song is similar to its predecessor in style and feel. It’s a musical undertaking where Larry discusses the challenges he’s been through during his life and career. The emotion and sentiment expressed in this song can only be conveyed by someone who has had some struggles in their life. The song builds throughout and climaxes with an elaborate string arrangement accented by background vocals from Jade McRae and Dannielle DeAndrea from Joe’s touring band. Larry and Warren trade guitar solos bringing the song to an end, while leaving the listener inspired by the uplifting message of the song.

“Drinking Liquor and Chasin’ Women” is one of my favorite songs on the release. Musically it’s probably some of the most intense playing on the record. The production is hot and everyone seems to be feeding off of each other’s energy.  Reese’s piano solo is exceptional and is a perfect setup for the fiery guitar prowess of Larry during the first guitar solo.  During the latter solos in this song, Larry trades licks with Joanna Connor on slide and it doesn’t disappoint.  This is not an original theme or musical concept for a blues song, but it’s so well done it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t take much imagination for the listener to envision hearing this song in a smoky blues club somewhere and being blown away.

“Mr. Easy” features Joe Bonamassa and is another track that shows the musical diversity and depth of Larry as an artist. It’s a laid-back blues song where Larry effortlessly captures the nuances of a great blues vocal while weaving around Travis’s funky bass groove and Reese’s B3 solo. Larry and Joe trade out guitar licks on this song giving listeners yet another gem from Larry.

“Blues Without You (for Paul)” is the title track on the record, and a tribute to the 30+ year relationship Larry had with his recently deceased manager Paul Koch. “Blues Without You” is a career defining song, that could arguably rival “The Thrill is Gone” or other Blues classics. The pure emotion captured in this song is something that many artists aspire to, but few achieve. This epic song should become an instant classic in the blues genre and will hopefully become the next building block in Larry’s career taking him to the next level.

Blues Without You is a damn near perfect blues record. This release is not just about great vocals, great musicianship or great songs, it’s about Larry McCray the artist. This is a record that comes along once in a lifetime for any artist. The songs, emotion, and artistry on this release are the encapsulation of decades of hard work. Good times, bad times, and just life experiences have molded Larry into the person he is today. This release is literally 30 years in the making, and would not be the same if Larry had not experienced everything that he has. Having known this record was going to be made for some time, I can honestly say it lives up to all the anticipation. Blues Without You is truly an incredible record and should become a record that blues enthusiasts are listening to and talking about for years. This project was a labor of love for Joe and Josh, and it’s undeniable. Everyone stepped up to the plate and helped Larry make the best record of his career. In the words of Joe B… “It’s time to rediscover Larry McCray!”

The Review: 9.5/10

Can’t Miss Tracks

–  Arkansas
–  Breaking News
–  Drinkin’ Liquor and Chasin’ Women featuring Joanna Connor
–  Down to the Bottom featuring Warren Haynes
–  Mr. Easy featuring Joe Bonamassa

The Big Hit

– Blues Without You (for Paul)

Buy the album: Amazon

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