Robin McKelle is a California based singer who enjoys the big-band sound, as well as old-time singers like Peggy Lee and Dinah Washington, reflective in her voice. She has a slightly sultry, at times girlish sound that is striving for vintage sophistication, but also relies on contemporary song stylist precepts. She’s not Norah Jones, Diana Krall, or Joni Mitchell by a long shot, and not trying to be. She sounds quite similar to Detroit based vocalist Kathy Kosins in her phrasing and affectations.
The problem with this recording, her third, is that it is way overproduced, not in a contemporary synthesizer soaked way, for all of the arrangements are acoustically derived. But the rather large horn section and strings dominate this stylized singer on too many occasions. It will be good someday to hear her with a much smaller ensemble, but meanwhile, you have a fairly good representation of what McKelle sounds like doing a Las Vegas type show set. The program starts off smart enough with of a swinging and rousing version of Steve Miller’s “Abracadabra,” with McKelle tossing in some good scat singing. A montuno/Afro-Cuban take of “Comes Love” shows the sexy influence of Lee, while the slight contemporary light rock beat tacked on to “I Want to Be Loved” is a popular concession, but the orchestration drenches this tune. Veteran tenor saxophone soloist Pete Christlieb shines on the string infused easy swinger “Cheek to Cheek,” while flugelhorn and trumpet guest Joe Magnarelli is strong and supple for the breezy “Day by Day” and stands out during the very complementary chart of “Make Someone Happy.”
McKelle scats again and quite effectively for “Lullaby of Birdland” with interesting staggered phrasings above a less orchestrated backdrop — a good thing for her. She also plays piano while singing on her original, the closer “Remember,” a pop ballad with strings and laden with the otherwise tasteful guitarist Larry Kuhns. This band has some other good players like trumpeter Wayne Bergeron, saxophonists Bob Shepard or Andy Snitzer, and bassist Reggie McBride, but their individualism is all but smothered. This CD will appeal to a certain audience, but there’s nothing new or innovative, save the occasional vocal excursions of the clearly talented McKelle.
– Michael G. Nastos, Rovi