Monday, 2 December 2013

Robin McKelle

My latest guest castaway to be washed ashore on a lonely island in the sea is the wonderfully talented Robin McKelle.
Born in Rochester, New York and influenced musically by her church-choir-member mother, Robin first began to reveal her talent by performing in local R&B groups from the age of 15. 

After taking up the piano and French horn, she would go on to study Jazz at the University Of Miami before attending Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music, graduating in 1999. Moving to the West Coast she would regularly perform as a backing-vocalist for both Michael McDonald and BeBe Winans before subsequently returning to Berklee as a teacher. 

After being placed an impressive third in the widely-respected Thelonius Monk International Jazz Vocal Competition in Washington, DC, Robin finally begin her recording career – first coming to the public eye as a solo jazz singer with her 2006 debut album “Introducing Robin McKelle” and its 2008 follow-up “Modern Antique”, both big-band swing sessions which would in turn precede the 2010-released set “Mess Around”, which, with its more soul-jazz direction, marked the first hint of Robin’s personal yearning to return to her original R&B roots. 

2012 saw the release of Robin McKelle & The Flytones "Soul Flower", with Robin writing most of the songs.  “The Flytones acknowledgment sets this project apart from my solo and previous jazz work, and also stresses the joint effort on this album with Sam Barsh (Avishai Cohen’s former pianist) and Derek Nievergelt (her current bassist). They’re from the jazz world, but they love this music. We worked on the tracks together, some even on stage when we were touring.”  The album includes duets with soul veteran Lee Fields and with jazz vocalist Gregory Porter.

"As an artist I am often asked the question of who my greatest influences are and what are my favorite albums or singers. I always cringe when asked this question because I feel that aside from being influenced by so many singers and musicians, I am inspired by different artists/music at different periods of my life. This makes it hard for me to pick 1 or 2 people when asked. 

Over the past year I’ve been focusing on writing and recording a new album in Memphis. While writing and researching for this album I listened to so many of my favorite artists and discovered new ones too !

I’ve compiled a few of my favorites so I hope you enjoy what I’ve been diggin’ on !"

Donny Hathaway – Live

"Donny is one of the most influential singers in my life. His tone, feel, and passion are so incredible. His phrasing is so in the pocket and yet so free. 

The band includes legendary musicians, Willie Weeks (bass) and Cornell Dupree (Guitar) on this live recording… and make no mistake, they are all killing it! 

I love all the tracks on this album but What’s Going On, The Ghetto and Jealous Guy all hit a soft spot in me and take me back to the time when I discovered Donny. He changed my life."

James Brown – Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine

"What can you say about JB ! I remember hearing this at a young age… I didn’t even know who JB was. I sang I Feel Good in a cover band when I was 17 and I had NO idea how much this man would end up influencing my musical path! 

His voice is so powerful and stage presence is undoubtedly amazing! THE hardest working man in show business people!!!

It was hard to pick one song or album, because I love them all so I chose this iconic tune but I especially love the live recordings because I feel that is where you can feel most of his energy and the band !"

Aretha Franklin - Live at the Filmore West
"Just so ridiculous ! 

I mean… the voice, the band, the energy is just incredible ! I would have given anything to be at that show! 

‘Nuff said !"

Gladys Knight & The Pips - Midnight Train to Georgia

"I just love Gladys’ voice. Her phasing and tone is so gorgeous. I could listen to her forever. 

I also love the lyrics because they speak about life and trying to manage your dreams and relationships. 

Gladys is one of my all time favorite singers ! 

This tune just makes me feel good !"

John Coltrane – A Love Supreme

"I had to include this album because it was the first instrumental jazz record that I really connected to. Jazz is such a part of my musical journey and it’s helped me to become a better musician and shaped my sound along the way. 

Love Supreme is so beautiful in so many ways. Coltrane’s tone is unmistakable and he plays with such passion. On the first track, Acknowledgement, the variation on the motif evolves with improvisation and groove and I found that really kept me interested and helped me understand a music that was probably way too deep for me to get as a young musician. 

Every time I listen to this album I hear something new and I hear it in a different way. It’s just a timeless album."


Vinyl junkies will be delighted to learn that Expansion Records have released "Fairytale Ending" (for me, the standout track on the "Soul Flower" album) as a double A-side 7" c/w "Love’s Work" featuring Gregory Porter.

January 2014 will see the release of "Heart of Memphis" : An album recorded in the city of Soul and produced by the legendary Scott Bomar... the man behind the mixing console for many of Isaac Hayes’ and Al Green’s recording sessions.
Use iTunes link to to pre-order "Heart of Memphis"