I reported in this column a couple of weeks ago that Robert Cray was taking a swipe at the Bush administration with the title track of his new album, Twenty, and mentioned that the advance publicity suggested his songwriting was moving on to bigger issues than men and women cheating on each other. Notwithstanding Twenty's tale of a soldier who doesn't make it back from Iraq, it turns out that lyrically, most of the album is located in that old, familiar territory of more private betrayals. This is only slightly disappointing, because few songwriters are better at chronicling that side of life than Cray and, stylistically from the point of view of the jazz and blues lover, this is his most satisfying album for some time. There is, as always, a fair dollop of soul about the vocals and arrangements, and That Ain't Love even has a few elements of Motown mixed in with the more familiar Stax-influenced stylings. There's a touch of reggae about Poor Johnny, one of Cray's little moral vignettes exploring the consequences of giving in to carnal temptation, and there's even a bit of riff-driven rock in Does It Really Matter. This time around, however, he hasn't neglected the straight-ahead blues with which he made his name. Fadin' Away features one of Cray's best solos of the album, and It Doesn't Show is a mournful, sparsely accompanied number that stays close to his roots and on which he eschews his normal virtuosity. Twenty is an intelligently economical arrangement, but here Cray lets his guitar do a little more of the talking, which is just as well because the lyrics need help. The song doesn't have a blues structure, but the licks and the sentiments certainly belong in that tradition. Despairing rather than angry, it's a worthy but not inspired piece of work, and is overshadowed here by a number of stronger compositions. The purposeful sounding I'm Walkin', by drummer Kevin Hayes, is much in the tradition of the sides Albert King cut for Stax with Booker T and the MGs in the 60s, and there's a Booker T. Jones and William Bell cover in I Forgot to be Your Lover, which acknowledges that influence and opens with a tip of the hat to Jimi Hendrix's Little Wing. Two tunes that take Cray into jazzier territory are contributed by his long-time keyboardist and co-producer Jim Pugh. My Last Regret is a swinging minor key blues that puts me in mind of Rory Gallagher's Calling Card, and gives its composer a chance to stretch out on piano. Two Steps from the End, with which the album concludes, is an organ-driven, fatalistic, late-night blues that allows Cray space for some expansive lead guitar. This is blues for the new millennium - firmly rooted in tradition, but branching out into other areas in an adventurously experimental way. Speaking of experimentation, one of Johnny Winter's strongest blues albums has just received a long overdue digital remastering and re-release. The Progressive Blues Experiment, now on Capitol, was recorded before Winter signed his first proper recording contract with Columbia in 1969, and was first released in competition with his major label debut. Many blues fans consider it better than the album Johnny Winter, notwithstanding the rough and ready production. The major gripe about this reissue is the absence of bonus tracks and decent liner notes. Some documentation would have been useful. It probably isn't just the presence of Tommy Shannon on bass that makes these tracks sound like prototypes for the high-energy Texas blues he would be laying down the foundations for more than a decade later with Stevie Ray Vaughan. This is blues delivered with a real rock'n'roll attitude, but with a deep understanding of where it comes from and respect for the discipline of the form. In an era during which 'experimentation' all too often meant hour after hour of mindless noodling, this was something different. Recorded live in a nightclub in Austin, Texas, without an audience, this captured Winter and his trio's 'take no prisoners' set of 1969, featuring a mixed bag of originals and covers of heroes such as Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. The sound is clearer and crisper than before remastering, and the boundless energy of Winter's guitar work comes screaming out of the speakers. For connoisseurs of white-boy blues - and nobody playing them is whiter than Winter, who's albino - this is essential listening. The blues were fundamental to both men in this week's 'The Grim Reaper Calls' section of this column, but in quite different ways. Bass player Percy Heath was the last surviving original member of the Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ), which, despite the classical ambitions of pianist John Lewis, never lost its connection to the roots music from which its sophisticated chamber jazz developed. Heath also recorded with his brothers Jimmy and Tootie, and before the MJQ formed had worked with Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and many others. Supple, propulsive and endlessly imaginative, Heath was one of the greatest bass soloists in jazz, particularly on blues-based tunes, and an unsurpassed ensemble player. He was 81. The blues was also the basis for the music of Oscar Brown Jnr, as you'd expect from a son of Chicago, and its heritage informed his lyrics. But he was a man of many talents. Singer, composer, lyricist - best known perhaps for The Snake, Signifyin' Monkey and his words to Miles Davis' All Blues and Nat Adderley's Work Song - he also wrote plays, musicals and poetry and was a civil rights activist. One of jazz's renaissance men, Brown, who was 78, will be sadly missed.