The word on the street is that Robin McKelle is in line with Ella Fitzgerald and Nancy Wilson. Wellllll, I'm not street, though I sometimes agree with many of the the baddest actors therein, and this isn't one of those agree-with-em instances. I can see the reason for the comparatives 'cause McKelle's smooth even when waxing gritty, but I hear a very definite turning from those esteemed belles chanteuses over to the ilk of Maggie Bell, Marge Raymond, and Gayle McCormick. In fact, had I not already espied the Vizztone label, I would've thought Heart of Memphis was being issued on Mike Powers' Yellow Dog imprint…but then the mighty Vizztone and Yellow Dog labels have always had a lot in common, always willing to go the extra mile.
I'll tell you right off my fave track among a raft of real goodies: the McKelle co-written Control Yourself. I'm a big-time sucker for CTI / Kudu old school sweetening, and this cut's dripping with it, even to the degree of sounding like a side cut from the marvelous old Trouble Man killer soundtrack. McKelle has tributized Leonard Cohen, Doc Pomus, Willie Dixon, and others in the past, but this cut has Marvin Gaye written all over it. It is, in fact, her indebtedness to an era when Motown held sway that has captured audiences and critics alike since her debut in 2006, a swing jazz gig that hinted broadly of what was to come. That something has now arrived.
My second favorite track here is the title cut, Heart of Memphis (though the Robillardy Like a River comes awfully close to edging it out), not for its Ella or Nancy refrains but because the song sounds like Gladys Knight in the zone she always makes me swoon behind: blues renditions. Neither the promo copy I received nor its lit gives any indication of who's in the band, but it's a tight unit, and the drummer possesses the same rock steady beat of a Mark Texeira: firm, unwavering, always on the money. When whoever that skinspounder is and the accompanying horn section come together for the lead-in to Baby You're the Best, with McKelle at her soulfulest, I travel right back to my teen years, transistor radio 'neath pillow, remembering the days when Aretha, Otis, Wilson, and so many others generously peppered my rock diet with work that tugged at the heart-side of the emotional palette a good deal more than The Who, Zep, The Stones, and all the crotch-rockers. Obviously, McKelle is carrying that torch forward.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2015, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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