That pianist Paul Bley, reedman Evan Parker, and bassist Barre Phillips had never played as a group before flipping the coin of Time Will Tell matters little. Whether you call heads or tails, you win. The fact that Phillips had played with the two who hadn’t emerges through the sensitive approach he elicits from each. By the same token, one cannot simply say that he tempers what we might be expecting from two powerhouses of the free improv universe. Rather, he spotlights the tenderness already flowing within.
Studebaker John, who dominates this release, has diverse talents in four areas: as a guitarist, harmonica soloist, singer and songwriter. His abilities on both guitar and harmonica are quite impressive, playing the very different instruments with equal intensity and passion. In contrast, John's singing is serviceable, and none of his dozen originals on his fourth Blind Pig release are destined to become standards. Overall, this bluesy, often high-powered set is a good showcase for his playing, although one would love to hear Studebaker John perform blues standards sometime.
Even diehard Robert Cray fans admit that over the course of the last decade, the singer/guitarist/songwriter has crafted albums that are practically interchangeable. Although Cray has created his own niche with a slick but powerful Memphis-styled R&B/soul/blues stew, his sound become repetitious; even though the songs' quality remained way above average. Since leaving Ryko (after two albums), he and keyboardist Jim Pugh – an increasingly pivotal player in Cray's work – produced this 13th disc between labels. That provided them the freedom to experiment without corporate intervention. While his "if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it" ethic allowed multiple Grammy wins, Cray clearly wanted to step outside the box he built, resulting in a slightly different direction this time around. Those who enjoy the comfy fit of his previous work have little to fear; there is plenty of the love-lost/found R&B that he's known for.