The double bill featuring bluesmen Robert Cray and Jonny Lang at Wolf Trap Friday night was loud, lively and soulful.
The soul factor was never more evident than when Cray opened the evening, backed by his own organ-driven band and the Memphis Horns. Now celebrating his 25th year as a bandleader, Cray still looks too young to be a blues elder, but over time he's developed the vocal presence, solid repertoire and guitar skills to place him in the genre's top tier. Whether drawing on old songs (including a terrific version of "I'm in a Phone Booth, Baby") or showcasing material from his new album, "Take Your Shoes Off," Cray was in compelling form. His voice, often infused with yearning emotions, nearly always gave way to expressive guitar work midway through a tune, and that combination alone was powerful enough to carry several performances. But Cray also relied on his band mates--particularly organist Jim Pugh--and the Memphis Horns (trumpeter Wayne Jackson and tenor saxophonist Andrew Love) to raise the soul quotient.
Lang, the 18-year-old blues phenom, lacks Cray's vocal and guitar finesse. Yet in a very short time he's become a confident headliner. He spent much of the night singing at the top of his lungs in a raw, impassioned voice that belied his youth, and playing guitar with raucous abandon. Songs from the albums "Lie to Me" and "Wander This World" frequently punctuated the show, with Lang reserving the former's title track for the encores and saving one of his best vocal performances for "The Levee." There was a lot of time left over for some full-tilt blues jams and even a little swing, further illustrating Lang's great promise and impressive growth.