Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Robin McKelle Heart Of Memphis 2014

Those people that feel music is dead and there's no great new artists sure are a drag. The only thing new about this music is that it is new. I mean that Ms. McKelle has written a tribute to the sound of Memphis (Stax, Hi) that is both loving tribute, in the style (ala), but also wholly new and original.

And that is a pretty cool deal right there.

I stumbled upon Robin McKelle over at PledgeMusic, and was intrigued enough to just try this one out. Her backstory is a bit odd I must say. Born in upstate New York, and "discovered" in France singing interpretations of the classic jazz songbook in a big band setting (Introducing Robin McKelle 2006 and Modern Antique 2008), she followed that with Mess Around 2010, a more contemporary jazz-pop outing, if I'm reading her bio correctly. And then she wrote most of Soul Flower 2011. I have heard none of those records, so I have no idea if they rival this one, but given her singing, they can't possibly be bad.

Memphis has been rediscovered again recently, with retro-soul outings recorded on site from Boz Scaggs and Paul Rodgers and many others. What makes this release so special is that the songs are newly penned by McKelle, with help from several band members, and they totally nail the Memphis sound without being derivative. Oh, the band is spectacular. The six-piece Flytones, with drums, bass, guitar, keyboards and two horns, rock these songs to the ground every time. Robin McKelle has a perfect alto voice with a touch of rasp, and she sings with street-cred soul.

One of the two covers is a fabulous reading of Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, the Animal's chestnut. This song has been covered to death, but I've never heard a fast version nearly as good as this one. Ben Stivers organ is choice, but so is the whole arrangement. But the originals are where this baby shines, with Baby You're The Best, Down With The Ship, Good and Plenty, About To Be Your Baby, and Good Time all stars. There really isn't a weak track. The title track and Like A River emulate the Hi Records sound so well you don't even miss Al Green. Soulful and laid back, with that thing that moves your hips in a, well, Memphis, sort of way.

Give in to it.

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