Robin McKelle has consistently proved to her ever-expanding fan base that she’s 100% steeped in soul. Not to mention jazz, blues and the other ingredients that make her work on record and on stage so thrillingly authentic. Now, ten years after she first emerged, the songwriter and vocal stylist from Rochester, New York, is set to make 2016 her year, with her most exciting album to date.
McKelle’s sophisticated new release The Looking Glass is a stunning mélange of all the styles she’s already espoused, and a refreshingly accessible yet urbane soul-pop sound that’s about to steal the hearts of newcomers and old friends.
The album not only features Robin’s best songwriting to date, but an A-list of musicians with resumés to die for, and the production of Steve Greenwell, whose credits include work with Diane Birch, Joss Stone and on Compromised, the acclaimed current release by long-established singer-songwriter Steve Forbert.
The Looking Glass is Robin’s first album composed entirely of original songs. The infectious opening single ‘Stand Up’ has nods back to the 1970s soul flavours that have served the likes of Bruno Mars, Mark Ronson and others so well, but with a personality all its own. From the breezy opener ‘Gravity’ to the passionate ‘I’m The One,’ the poignant ‘Forgive Me’ and ‘Down Without A Fight’ and the wistful ‘Get Back Yesterday,’ it’s an irresistible collection.
Since taking her bow with Introducing Robin McKelle in 2006, the artist has inspired favourable comparisons with great American originals from Ella Fitzgerald to Nina Simone to Gladys Knight. In a catalogue that has channeled 1940s jazz, 1960s Motown and Stax and far more besides, she progressed to Modern Antique, flexing her songwriting muscles on disc for the first time, then to Mess Around and Soul Flower, which featured duets with Gregory Porter and Lee Fields; each album more sure-footed and distinctive than its predecessor.
All of that experience culminated in 2014’s Heart of Memphis, greeted by the media as a modern landmark of southern soul, with glowing praise everywhere from Rolling Stone to Le Monde. In the UK, the Independent purred about its “slow-burn smouldering dynamic” and concluded that it was “a secret soul classic in the making.”
If Heart of Memphis moved critics to such eulogies, they’re in for an even bigger treat with The Looking Glass, McKelle’s most refined blend of vintage and modern soul to date. The dream band features hip-hop drummer George ‘Spanky’ McCurdy, whose credits include Lady Gaga, Kanye, P. Diddy, the Backstreet Boys and Jill Scott; pianist Ray Angry (Prince, the Roots, D’Angelo, Queen Latifah and countless others, and co-writer of hits for such stars as Christina Aguilera and Ja Rule); pop/rock bassist Jack Daley (Lenny Kravitz); and longtime guitarist and confidant Al Street (Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Lee Fields, Marva Whitney et al).
“After two albums oriented more toward old-school Memphis soul and Motown, I wanted to work with Steve to search for a new sound,” says Robin. “This new album is a shift toward music that allows me to use all the texture of my voice in a more intimate register.