Tin-eared critics have frequently damned him as a yuppie blues wannabe whose slickly soulful offerings bear scant resemblance to the real down-home item. In reality, Robert Cray is one of a precious few young blues-based artists with the talent and vision to successfully usher the idiom into the 21st century without resorting either to slavish imitation or simply playing rock while passing it off as blues. Just as importantly, his immensely popular records helped immeasurably to jump-start the contemporary blues boom that still holds sway to this day. Blessed with a soulful voice that sometimes recalls '60s-great O.V. Wright and a concise lead guitar approach that never wastes notes, Cray's rise to international fame was indeed a heartwarming one. For a guy whose 1980 debut album for Tomato, Who's Been Talkin', proved an instantaneous cutout, his ascendancy was amazingly swift -- in 1986 his breakthrough Strong Persuader album for Mercury (containing "Smoking Gun") won him a Grammy and shot his asking price for a night's work skyward.