If ever a new album was apt to pique my curiosity, it would be something like Introducing Robin McKelle, out this month on Cheap Lullaby Records. She's being promoted as a throwback singer similar to the songbirds of the big band era. Having written more than once about those very ladies, when I was presented with the opportunity to review this album it certainly got my attention.
McKelle is currently a headliner at New York's Blue Note and has also been featured as a soloist with the Boston Pops, but as the title suggests, this is her debut album. It's already moving up two Billboard lists – top independent albums and top jazz albums – and is beginning to attract some real notice among the listening public.
As I listened to the album, my first thought was that she's very good, with a sort of subdued Keely Smith style. But it should be said that although most of the songs McKelle performs here were hits for earlier singers, she's able to keep our focus on her performance, rather than thinking about those who preceded her. And if at first glance she seems to be a little young to perform some of the ballads of the era, especially those about lost opportunities, remember that some of the original singers were even younger.
It helps that she has the backing of a full big band and some good arrangements by trumpeter Willie Murillo, who also produced the album. The musicians are first class and turn in some nice work, including an extended tenor sax solo by Pete Christleib on "For All We Know," but of course the star of the album is McKelle and she's always front and center. The one exception is a very nice duet with Robbie Wycoff on "You Brought A New Kind Of Love," a song I enjoyed a lot as their voices mesh perfectly.
The arrangements for some tunes are tweaked a little, such as "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen" with a more Latin beat, and it works out just fine. Others, like "Night And Day," "On The Sunny Side Of The Street," and "Dream," are performed in a more traditional style, but are still very nicely done. McKelle sounds good on every cut, and about the only flaw I sensed – albeit a small one – was when she belted out "Come Rain Or Come Shine" and her voice seemed to break a time or two.
Overall, a good debut album for a talented newcomer and a good listen for music lovers.
Robin McKelle – Introducing Robin McKelle – Cheap Lullaby Records
1. Something's Gotta Give
2. Bei Mir Bist Du Schon
4. For All We Know
5. You Brought A New Kind Of Love
7. Yes, My Darling Daughter
8. Deep In A Dream
9. I've Got The World On A String
10. Come Rain Or Come Shine
11. The Lamp Is Low
12. On The Sunny Side Of The Street