VOCALIST ROBIN MCKELLE DEBUTS NEW WORKING GROUP, THE FLYTONES, ON LATEST ALBUM, SOUL FLOWER,
VIA OKeh as 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."
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.