Five decades ago, when Robert Cray first started cooking up his signature stew of blues, soul, R&B, and rock, critics and fans, alike, tabbed it somewhat generically and conveniently as “modern blues.” So, as Cray and his Band are in the midst of a Groovin’ 50 Years! tour that brought the seasoned quartet to southern Massachusetts, it’s rather anomalous to label what the ageless singer and guitarist and his group are doing as ‘modern.’ Cray’s music remains as vital as ever, certainly, yet it’s about time this brilliant musician is honored as much as a progressive pioneer as he is a contemporary performer in the world of the blues; as a man who invented and evolved his enduring brand of the art form.

Across a nearly two-hour performance, that’s just what the sold-out crowd at the beautifully intimate Narrows came to hear- and what they received in spectacular fashion- on this frigid Tuesday in February. It didn’t take long for Cray to demonstrate exactly why he’s among the more respected guitarists of all time, impressively carving up an outgoing solo on “Won’t Be Coming Home,” following the opening heat of “Anything You Want.” His six-string spoke for him, too, on “I Don’t Care,” grinding, growling, or grinning through the soulful kiss-off.

Yet, it’s Cray’s vocal prowess, as well, that drinks from the fountain of youth, shining as he stepped back from the microphone, hauntingly singing into the empty space, on a stirring rendition of Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s “Deep in my Soul.” The four pepped up the tempo of “Enough for Me,” turning the spotlight on the nimble strutting of keyboardist Dover ‘White Cliffs’ Weinberg, then simmered on “Chicken in the Kitchen,’ with a scintillating, stop-on-a-dime solo from Cray.  Backed by longtime cohort, bassist Richard Cousins, and the foursome’s newest timekeeper, George Sluppick, Cray settled into a trio of darker, more subduing entries, including “I Shiver,” “Bad Influence,” and a take on “You Had My Heart,” so smoky and deft it simply vaporized in its conclusion.

They got funky on “You Can’t Make Me Change,” shimmied through the instrumental, “Hip Tight Onions,” and extended marvelously the classic, “Sitting On Top of the World.” Cray dialed back to 1986- and days when he dubbed himself “young Bob”- for his breakthrough hit, “Right Next Door (Because of Me),” and closed the set, with a nod to Johnny Copeland, on “You Must Believe in Yourself.” Then, for an encore, the quartet delighted with an early Cray nugget, “Phone Booth,” during which Cray ad-libbed a playful admission of the title’s subject being virtually extinct.  Finally, Cray carried “Time Makes Two,” to a dramatic crescendo, earning a standing ovation from the capacity house.

That last pair of songs provided some apt context, showcasing the length and depth of Cray’s fantastic career. The first dipped back over 40 years, and the second, over twenty. Either one served as a point in Cray’s trajectory that not only attested to his survival through whatever was trending at the time, but also as a maker’s mark of indisputably high quality and an unrelenting and humble commitment to the music. In 2024, just as in ’74, or ’94, or ’14, Robert Cray and his Band are still, passionately and indispensably, creating the finest grooves.