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Robin McKelle: Mess Around

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Since Robin McKelle’s intent was to move away from the big-band swing that defined her first two albums and closer to a classic R&B groove, it would seem a reasonable assumption that the title track is a cover of Ray Charles’ career-igniting 1953 hit. Actually, McKelle’s nod to Charles comes later in the album, with a hip-twitching, brass-and-organ-fueled “Lonely Avenue.” This “Mess Around,” one of four McKelle originals included among the 11 tracks, is a bluesy, midtempo swinger about alleged infidelity. The boisterous brass and thumping organ are either muted or altogether eliminated on the other McKelle compositions, an impressively wide-ranging trio with the achingly meditative, post-9/11 “Angel” offset by the sly, slinky “Until the Day I Die” and restoratively romantic “Since I Looked in Your Eyes.”

The balance of the album further substantiates both McKelle’s intrinsic comfort with a retro vibe and her marvelous dexterity. She transforms Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” into a spicy, splashing soul gumbo, teams with a rollicking Houston Person to lift “Never Make a Move Too Soon” off its hinges, and shapes a “Cry Me a River” that is equal parts black-silk sexiness and revenge-tinted black-heartedness. Best, though, is a galloping “Eleanor Rigby” that suggests a heavily caffeinated union of Dusty Springfield and Archie Bell.

Originally Published