Robin McKelle & The Flytones
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Robin McKelle & The Flytones

New York City, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2014 | MAJOR

New York City, New York, United States | MAJOR
Established on Jan, 2014
Band Blues Soul


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"Heart of Memphis"

Robin McKelle & The Flytones "Heart of Memphis" (OKeh)

Primarily known for her jazz work, Robin McKelle sticks to the trusted virtues of Memphis soul on this latest album. She eschews soul-diva vocal gymnastics in favour of terse, no-nonsense inflections. As she sings in “Easier That Way”, “Forget all this high fidelity, I like my records old and worn out”, an indication of the values at work here. There’s a swampy Muscle Shoals strut to the opener “About to Be Your Baby”, with horns punctuating its progress in classic Willie Mitchell manner; elsewhere, the slow-burn smouldering dynamic of “Forgetting You” recalls Otis Redding’s arrangement style, while an assertive version of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” draws equally from Nina Simone and Eric Burdon. A secret soul classic in the making.


Download: About to Be Your Baby; Forgetting You; Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood; Good Time - The Independant London

"Heart of Memphis Review"

Last year the lovely Robin McKelle won the hearts of the soul community with her 'Soul Flower' album. The lady, who'd come out of a jazz background, re-wrote the modern soul primer as cuts like 'Fairy Tale Ending' and the sublime duet with Gregory Porter, 'Love's Work' , found themselves on everyone's year end, best of listings. It would have been so easy for Robin to follow up 'Soul Flower' with more of the same. Few would have complained; but Ms McKelle was never one for sitting on her laurels. So she chose to push her personal soul envelope by decamping to Soul's spiritual home to work on the 'Soul Flower' follow up. Ensconced at Memphis' Electrophonic Studio, she's now delivered a new set that's shaping up to be a contemporary soul masterpiece. Yes, in places 'Heart Of Memphis' echoes 'Soul Flower' but elsewhere Robin is emphatically saying that she's moved on. Evoking the spirit of Otis Redding and James Carr and the commitment of Al Green and Ann Peebles, 'Heart Of Memphis' is just about the consummate modern soul album.

The set's stuffed with Hi/Stax style Southern soul rollers; try 'About To Be Your Baby', 'Like A River'. 'Easier That Way' or 'What You Want' to get the album's overall feel... each one right in the pocket with tight beats, rasping brass and a passionate vocal – classic "soul" if you would. Maybe 'Good Time' and 'Good & Plenty' are a tad to frantic to be classed "classic" but to counter those there are two quality, smouldering ballads. The melancholic 'Forgetting You' will recall prime time Candi Staton, while the equally ponderous 'It's Over This Time' has the ghost of James Carr wandering its charts. The album's title track is another with "classic" stamped all over it. It's based on the familiar "train" theme and the country garnish reassures you that Robin knows that country and soul were always familiar bed fellows. The most familiar song on the 13 tracker is a cover of 'Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood'. As she did with 'Walk On By' on 'Soul Flower', Robin offers a version that's very different to both Nina Simone's original and the Animals' hit version. Try it, you'll like it!

That just about leaves two other tracks – 'Control Yourself' and 'Baby You're The Best'. These are the tunes that provide the link to 'Soul Flower'. The former is a beautiful string-driven thing while 'Baby You're The Best' underlines what soul insiders already know... Robin McKelle is a serious soul contender. Both tunes are receiving considerable attention from soul tastemakers and it's so easy to hear why.

2014 is still in its infancy and already we've had one epic soul set – Sharon Jones' 'Give The People What They Want'. Straight away we have an album to rival it. Robin McKelle's 'Heart Of Memphis'. - William


Still working on that hot first release.



Memphis. The city is like a place of pilgrimage for any soul, blues, or rhythm and blues fan. Robin McKelle has chosen the city of the Stax and Hi record labels, Otis Redding, and Al Green in order to record her new album. Just a few minutes of listening to Heart Of Memphis is enough to understand that choice. Despite the time that has gone by and the museums being built in place of the legendary recording studios, the spirit of the city that, in its heyday, represented one of the best eras of American popular music has not disappeared. Robin McKelle immersed herself in that spirit for her new album, two years after Soul Flower.

I wanted to capture the Memphis sound in the recording process and the goal was to write the music and arrangements with that sound in mind. says Robin McKelle. By enlisting Scott Bomars servicesthe man behind the mixing console for many of Isaac Hayes' and Al Greens recording sessionsMcKelle made it clear she wanted her album to be in line with the sound of these artists.

But I dont think of it being a tribute album. she adds. I learned so much about Memphis soul after spending time there.  I got to visit Stax, Graceland, Sun Studios so many amazing places where legendary music was made! Just being there was so powerful.  We walked past the Lorraine Motel (where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated) every day on the way to the studio and you couldnt help but feel something heavy.

With her deep voice and her earthy, frank, direct, and gut-wrenching singing, McKelle embraces the legacy of those great artists from a city well-known for its tendency towards raw expression. I have a natural gritty sound or rasp in my voice so this sound suits me well.

Regarding her explosive live performances, Robin McKelle is influenced as much by the great male soul singers as by the divas of the 60s. Her amazing way of singing on Its Over This Time and her poignant interpretation of Forgetting You (one of the two covers on the album, along with Dont Let Me Be Misunderstood, which has been rearranged in a deep soul style), illustrate perfectly where she finds her inspiration. McKelle was really keen to sing OB McClintons Forgetting You: He was an African American country music singer and songwriter, which was a very rare thing, by the way. After I heard a recording of James Carr sing it, and being blown away, I really wasnt sure I could pull it off but Scott encouraged me to do it. We both felt that it was an authentic Memphis song being written and recorded in Memphis so it brings some history to the music as well. But she still needed to find the strength necessary to carry such a moment of intense emotion. When Im really going for it on a blues or something like really powerful, yes, Im taking more from singers like Otis Redding, James Brown and Sam Moore. she explains. As for the title song, Heart Of Memphis, it sounds country with a note of nostalgia. Songs such as About To Be Your Baby, Like A River, and Easier That Way immediately bring to mind the Hi Records sessions with Al Green and producer Willie Mitchell. I love the way the horns have such a huge part of the sound, says McKelle.  They are mixed pretty dry and they are out front in the mix. The horn lines are simple and strong but its as if they almost become as important as the melody at times.

On the frantic Good Time, McKelle pays homage to the legends of soul music. She mentions Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin as among her idols, but especially reveres Tina Turner: I love Tina!  She is an incredible performer and I most definitely look to her for inspiration! Ive become a very physical performer and I love the feeling of freedom that I have now on stage.  And Tina is the QUEEN of that!

For Heart Of Memphis, McKelle wrote eleven of the thirteen titles. Surrounded by her loyal Flytones and helped by her bass player and musical partner Derek Nievergelt, she took up the challenge in 2013 of crafting amazing and authentic soul music songs. I really love writing," she says." Its important to continue to create new sounds and push ourselves into unknown places.  Thats what artists are put on this earth for, taking risks and chances. Even though she doesnt deny her influences, Robin McKelle manages to write captivating bluesy and soulful songs without falling into the revivalist trap, and remains genuinely sincere whilst retaining a strong point of view as an artist. 

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