Robert Cray's follow-up to Strong Persuader is a pretty good album, and the follow-up to that, 1990's Midnight Stroll, is not bad either, though I admit that's about where I stopped following along so closely. It's arguable that the public at large did not and does not think any such thing. In fact, nothing ever again came close to the success of Strong Persuader, which even produced a #22 hit in 1987 with "Smoking Gun." More than anything, that says something depressing about the commercial prospects of blues beyond an occasional novelty breakthrough, but that's not news to anyone at this point. Taken purely as product, I think Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is about nearly as good as it gets. There's a lot of work to do here but it's getting done: the vocals are adequate, the guitar playing is good—often outstanding, perhaps even better at its heights than Strong Persuader (the rave-up on "Across the Line," say). Most important, the songwriting is fine, still overwhelmingly concerned with lies, pain, and motel rooms, in interesting verse-chorus-verse forms and Memphis-tinged arrangements with horns. But, yeah, if I think about it enough, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a shade off Strong Persuader, I suppose. The stories aren't quite as interesting, swinging wild too often, lurid and unlikely. The vocal lines tend to blur off into the background that they occupy in most songs, seductive chanting and melody with no particular thing to say. "Your Secret's Safe With Me," for example, starts from the narrative strains Cray can be so good at, but feels a little lazy, ultimately settling for a B-movie blackmail trope that enters territories of distractingly unpleasant. So that's a shame. But at worst these are just problems of degree. The unique strengths of Strong Persuader are what make it good—and unique. After that it's just a matter of deciding where and how comfortable you are with Cray. For me he can fit like old shoes. I keep a Cray playlist and just let it rip on occasions, and that's how I know him best now. The songs from Strong Persuader often stand out, but they aren't the only ones, and not a few of the others are located here: "I Can't Go Home," "Night Patrol, "Laugh Out Loud." Some real winners here.