Robin McKelle hails from Rochester, New York and she boasts a varied and impressive music CV. Her mother sang gospel – and young Robin was righteously impressed but at 15 she took the secular route working with a number of youthful R&B groups. After taking up the piano and French horn, she studied jazz at the University of Miami before attending and graduating from the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Moving to the west coast, she found work as a backing singer – most notably with Michael McDonald and Bebe Winans. She subsequently went back to the Berklee College Of Music as a teacher and entered the Thelonious Monk competition in Washington, winning third place in 2004 for her jazz vocal prowess. Encouraged, she went on to record a trio of jazz albums –’Introducing Robin McKelle’ (2006), followed by ‘Modern Antique’ (2008) – two big-band swing sessions – then 2010’s ‘Mess Around’. For this new album Robin has chosen to go back to the music she grew up loving – classic soul – and to help her deliver she’s put together a tight organic band (the Flytones) with whom she’s proud to share billing. Together they create a great modern soul set that is truly progressive- yet with its roots firmly in soul’s rich heritage.
Confident in her abilities, Robin (in collaboration with various members of the Flytones) has penned most of the material herself … and one song in particular is strong enough to become an instant soul classic – it’s the wonderful ‘Fairytale Ending’. The tune is a lovely slab of mid-tempo retro soul. Featuring beautiful brass, a haunting B3 and an ear-worm of a piano riff, it rolls with the catchiest chorus hook you’ll hear all year. Add to that a fabulously aching vocal from Ms McKelle and you have soul perfection. I’m putting it in the same league as Jennifer Holiday’s ‘Love Stories’…. it has a very similar feel. Almost as good is the gentle ‘Miss You Madly’ which references Marvin Gaye’s ‘Pretty Little Baby’ while if you’re a fan of proper soul duets try ‘Love’s Work’. Here Robin is joined by new jazz super star Gregory Porter and the result is wonderful. It has all the qualities of the great 60s/70s Stax duets (think Billy Vera/Judy Clay). Porter’s voice is a remarkable instrument and McKelle’s expressive contralto is the perfect complement. ‘Tell You One Thing’ is another noteworthy original. Fast and furious, it combines elements of Northern soul with rock and country. Quirky, yes – but not as quirky as the invasive ‘Don’t Give Up’.
To complete the album there’s a trio of brave covers. First up there’s a nod to the singer’s jazz background with a version of Frank Sinatra’s ‘I’m A Fool To Want You’ which Robin takes into Amy Winehouse territory. Then there’s a fairly respectful treatment of the Bee Gees’ ‘To Love Somebody’ (a duet with soul veteran Lee Fields, by the way) and finally Robin takes on ‘Walk On By’. Her philosophy here seems to be that if you’re going to cover such a well-known song why do it like all the other versions out there. So, Robin cranks up the pace to an almost Northern tempo and then gives her all… and guess what? It works. Robin’s wonderful, world-weary voice carries the day (aided an abetted by some great piano courtesy of Ben Stivers).
We’re told that ‘Soul Flower’ was the album that the singer said she’s always make. At one time she was going to call it ‘The Real McKelle’…. The Real McCoy, I’d say… great stuff.
Last Updated on Friday, 07 June 2013 21:04
VOCALIST ROBIN MCKELLE DEBUTS NEW WORKING GROUP,
THE FLYTONES, ON LATEST ALBUM, SOUL FLOWER,
AVAILABLE JUNE 11 VIA OKeh
Album Available as a Digital-Only Release
Projects Presents a Contemporary
Blend of Soul and Rhythm & Blues
Featuring Special Guest Appearances
by Lee Fields and Gregory Porter
“Not since Dusty Springfield invaded Memphis has a white female
singer dished up so flavorful a bucket of soul.” – JazzTimes
OKeh will release vocalist Robin McKelle‘s label debut, Soul Flower, as a digital-only release on June 11, 2013. The project, which consists of a contemporary blend of soul and rhythm & blues and mostly original tracks, debuts her new working group, Robin McKelle & The Flytones.
While McKelle is best known for her previous jazz and solo work, including placing third at the 2004 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition, this project is the fruit of McKelle’s long exposure to gospel, soul and blues. “It’s the record I’ve always dreamed of making,” reflects McKelle, who went into the studio with the aim of avoiding today’s retro tendencies. “I love that music so much that I couldn’t see myself doing something ‘in the style of…’ I grew up listening to Nina Simone and Gladys Knight. I sang their classics and what I enjoy most today is building my own repertoire in that same soulful vein.”
McKelle insisted on recognizing her associates on this album, even down to the cover credit: Robin McKelle & The Flytones. This collective achievement with writers Sam Barsh and Derek Nievergelt (whom also plays bass on the album) is a soulful joint effort, which delivers a fresh and cohesive sound.
The project’s collaborative nature also includes joint ventures: two duets, two encounters overflowing with emotion. On the first, she teams up with a soul veteran who, after a long absence, has returned to the limelight over the last few years: Lee Fields. “When I was involved in jazz, there was all this revival – Raphael Saadiq, Sharon Jones, I was aching to join in. Among all the artists was one I admired more than anyone, especially after My World. Fields has great presence and sincerity, so in the studio when we covered the Bee Gees’ ‘To Love Somebody,’ I felt such a thrill. His voice was so powerful it covered mine.”
Another high point on the album is “Love’s Work,” an original number sung with Gregory Porter, a rising star of vocal jazz whose reputation has spread beyond the jazz world. “I saw him at a club in New York. He has an impressive voice and a real sensitivity too,” explains McKelle. Their duet is an unusual exercise; the aim wasn’t just to record a performance, but to build up a genuine connection for the space of a few minutes to tell a story. “That story is about a couple’s relationship when they have to stand firm and keep going when things get bad.”
Throughout the album, McKelle’s voice unfailingly and expertly masters new dynamic and fragile tones. “Don’t Give Up” is deliberately measured, like a classic blues number. A Wurlitzer and lazy organ accompany the singer’s amorous lament. On the very catchy “Change” – a gospel shuffle brought to the boil by drums and organ – her sincerity and commitment take us back to the sixties heyday of the protest song. Backed by Benjamin Stivers‘ keyboards, the vocalist’s pen dips lucidly into the ink of today’s gloomy news on “So It Goes.” The singer shows great insight when it comes to affairs of the heart also, as on “Tell You One Thing” brims with Ray Charles-style orchestrations and backing vocals. The piano and guitar solos are reminiscent of the musician’s jazz backgrounds. “Fairytale Ending” has a vintage, very northern-soul flavor reminiscent of the legendary productions heard back in the sixties in clubs in the North of England: a blend of Motown and Stax. McKelle ends the session on a glamorous jazz note, with a cover of “I’m A Fool To Want You.”
During her singing career, McKelle has been through more than one renaissance. She came to the public eye with a first album called Introducing Robin McKelle (2006), followed by Modern Antique (2008) – two big-band swing sessions. Another turning point came at the start of 2010, with Mess Around, breaking with a certain classicism and exploring themes borrowed from different songwriters – Leonard Cohen, Doc Pomus, Willie Dixon and The Beatles – but especially marking a new aesthetic approach in the form of a return to roots for the native of Rochester, New York.
Influenced by her mother, a member of the church choir, the youngMcKelle began to show her talent in R&B groups from the age of fifteen. After taking up the piano and French horn, she studied jazz at the University of Miami before attending and graduating from the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Moving to the west coast, she regularly performed as a backing singer with Michael McDonald and Bebe Winans. She subsequently went back to the Berklee College Of Music as a teacher and entered the Thelonious Monk competition in Washington, winning third place in 2004.
Ultimately, McKelle enters a new chapter in her eventful history without looking back. “From time to time, I think about it, but it’s all a long way off now. I feel as if I’m beginning something new with Soul Flower and I’m looking forward to winning the public over on stage.” Indeed, when she performs live, Robin McKelle‘s singing talent takes on a whole new dimension.
Upcoming Robin McKelle Appearances
June 21 & 22 / Rochester Jazz Festival / Rochester, NY
September 28 / Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival / Boston, MA
Soul Flower – Track Listing:
1. So It Goes (Robin McKelle, Derek Nievergelt)
2. Tell You One Thing (Robin McKelle, Sam Barsh)
3. Nothing’s Really Changed (Sam Barsh)
4. Fairytale Ending (Robin McKelle, Sam Barsh)
5. Miss You Madly (Robin McKelle, Sam Barsh, Derek Nievergelt)
6. Don’t Give Up (Robin McKelle)
7. Walk On By (Burt Bacharach, David Hall –
Arrangement by Robin McKelle & The Flytones)
8. To Love Somebody feat. Lee Fields (Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb –
Arrangement by Robin McKelle, Ben Stivers)
9. Change (Robin McKelle)
10. I’m Ready (Robin McKelle)
11. Love’s Work feat. Gregory Porter (Robin McKelle, Derek Nievergelt)
12. I’m a Fool to Want You (Jack Wolf, Joel Herron, Frank Sinatra –
Arrangement by Robin McKelle, Ben Stivers)
Robin McKelle · Soul Flower
OKeh · *Release Date: June 11, 2013
For more information on Robin McKelle, please visit: RobinMcKelle.com
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Poretta is the capital of soul music in Europe… you wouldn’t think that when you get to this little village in the mountain a day eazrly of your show. Only local people hanging outside bar and cafes, not much activity there at all. The next whne you get up, the town is filled with germans, frenchs, dutch people…every european nationality is there. I even met a gentleman from Alabam that came only for the festival. Porretta is the sister city of Memphis for sure !
Our gig went great with big cheers from the massive crowds that were there. It has been a blessing for our band to perform on the same bill that Mr Otis Clay, Syl Johnson, David Hudson, The Bo-Keys and the Bar-Kays ! We had an extra day off after our performance and I was presented the “Swan” which is the award of the 25th edition of the festival ! made me feel super proud to be recognized for the music that I am doing today with the flytones ! I even got to sit in with the Bar-Kays and Mr James Alexander himself !!
only one more question…when do we go back ?
We had a Blast opening for the King of the Blues, BB King on June 30th in Paris @ Theater Grand Rex. This was part of a multi date tour across Europe this Summer.