After years of working clubs around the country, John Hiatt and Robert Cray finally made it to Wolf Trap Tuesday night. A sellout crowd was there to greet them.
Hiatt really seems to be enjoying the success of his new album "Bring the Family," and after a long series of recordings that garnered more praise than profit, who can blame him? Except for a freewheeling version of the yet-unreleased "Tennessee Plates," he and his trio focused on songs from the album, and not even an occasionally muddy sound mix could conceal his gifts as a songwriter. Among other things, tunes like "Memphis in the Meantime," "Alone in the Dark" and "Tip of the Tongue" demonstrated his gift for the vernacular -- for writing lyrics that have a decidedly real and impassioned quality about them.
Blues guitarist Cray is also a fine songwriter, and like Hiatt he's often at his best when singing about personal relationships. Although his favorite themes -- love, jealousy, deception, guilt -- are the usual grist for blues musicians, he isn't content to play out each drama using tired chord progressions. Instead, "Right Next Door," "Bad Influence" and several other songs were built around strong melodies and punctuated by incisive, barbed-toned guitar solos. Moreover, his band provided powerful support without ever obscuring his strong vocals.