In February I saw Fred Wesley and PeeWee Ellis perform at Ronnie Scott’s and wrote about their performance here. I’m not a great lover of jazz vocals, especially those delivered by a certain type of supper club vocalist but I do my best not to write any musician off too early. After all, if you handed me a tenor sax and said ‘entertain us’, I’m confident you would be making your excuses pretty sharpish. Robin McKelle, who they introduced on vocals, confirmed the old saying that there are rubies to be found amongst the dust- and the world of jazz vocals really needs a good rub over with the Mr Sheen. Gifted with one of those voices that can be both raunchy and subtle, Robin McKelle has a world-class talent.
Regular readers may recall that I’ve made a commitment to write about one new recording by a contemporary artist every month. Kevin Flanagan and RipRap were first up and April’s recording is Heart of Memphis by Robin McKelle and The Flytones.
Robin has already released four albums but I’m not familiar with these. Heart of Memphis took her down the Mississippi to Scott Bomar’s Electraphonic Studio to record an album steeped in a classic 60’s Stax and Muscle Shoals sauce. Purists may feel I’m stretching the jazz angle a bit here but I’m sure many of you will be interested to hear about her.
About To Be Your Baby gets things off to a good start with an exclamation from a strong woman, well capable of giving as good as she gets in love and knowing which way the world was turning when a lover ‘…went and started actin’ shady’.
Good Time is a medium paced dancer, which could probably cut it as a slower number on a Northern Soul dance floor. Robin’s vocals are a husky treat on this one. Next up is the classic, Please Don’t Let Me Misunderstood which she punches on the nose and knocks out with one mighty effort. Control Yourself has a 80’s flavoured sould ballad feel to it. Forgetting You is a country song- not a genre that I’m wild about but this song smoulders and then burns. If I’d been producing this one, the horns would have been crisper and more to the fore- but what do I know?
Heart of Memphis just makes me want to go there- perhaps one day soon? A fine song, written by Robin and perhaps the standout track for me.
Like A River offers you the opportunity to take a look and see what you think, courtesy of YouTube
To watch and listen, click or touch the arrow.
Easier That Way has a lighter musical air to it, although it’s message is one of nostalgia for better and simpler past days. Once again Robin captures a feeling and takes us there. What You Want puts a lover on the spot and sorts them out with a direct question. Well put and well delivered!
Good & Plenty is another song about a woman standing up for herself and ending a relationship where she got ‘…herself good and plenty of nothing’. It’s an energetic band workout and is likely be a highlight of a live set from The Flytones.
Baby You’re The Best is presented in an 80’s style and in this context is a breather between two strong tracks, because Down With The Ship is another potential anthem- a big soul ballad that should be heard and appreciated widely. It’s Over This Time is as described, a closer in which the singer points to a line in the sand and makes it clear that the subject is stating that a bad relationship is over with a big full stop.
So that’s Heart of Memphis. I’ve resisted the temptation to mention and compare any of the pantheon of great female vocalists, because Robin McKelle has her own distinctive style and can stand up in her own right. I really enjoyed her live with Fred and PeeWee doing the funky material and will be on the case when she plays her next London dates. If you want to know more about Robin McKelle you can read here about this Rochester, NY State born performer, who herself taught vocals at Boston’s revered Berklee School of Music. Catch her fast in the small venues because I feel that the big stages beckon. While we wait, you are unlikely to be disappointed by Heart of Memphis, or The Flytones whose musicianship complements their vocalist with performances that confirm their own talents.
The band etc: Robin McKelle (vocals, percussion); Ben Stivers (organ, piano); Derek Nievergelt (bass); Adrian Harpham (drums); Al Street (guitars); Mark Franklin (trumpet); Kirk Smothers (tenor & baritone saxophone); Danielle Hill & Susanne Marshall (background vocals). Production: Scott Bomar, Electaphonic Studios, Memphis Tennessee. Sony Music, OKeh. 2014