Tad Robinson

Back in Style

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As on his previous four albums, Tad Robinson proves himself an adept soul singer in a very identifiable style on Back in Style. He may be a 53-year-old New Yorker now living in Indianapolis after a long sojourn in Chicago, but from the sound of this record, you would think he had been born and raised in Memphis and that he either was much older or that the disc itself was made 40 years ago. Robinson's band, beginning with a rhythm section of bassist Steve Gomes (who also contributes heavily to the songwriting) and drummer Robb Stupka, plus keyboard player Kevin Anker alternating on Hammond organ, Wurlitzer, or Fender Rhodes, along with one of three guitarists depending on the track (Alex Schultz, Dan Hovey, or Harold Flood) and a horn section anchored by members of the Memphis Horns, lays down a sound that derives from the Stax Records house band of Booker T. & the MG's and developed through Willie Mitchell's Hi Records band. Over it, Robinson generally sings in a grainy tenor that sounds like -- well, take your pick: Sam Moore, Otis Redding, Brook Benton, Otis Redding, and Al Green all come immediately to mind. As the disc goes on, the listener has the sense of being in a time warp and having been dropped sometime between 1963 and 1973. It's all expertly performed, but since the release date is in 2010, also a bit odd. Robinson and his fellow musicians do introduce a few minor variations, especially in the album's later tracks. "Half Smile" has an arrangement reminiscent of Norman Whitfield's sinuous Motown productions, bringing to mind Marvin Gaye. "Turn to the Music" has a soul-jazz feel. And the final song, "Get Back to Love," is at least on the road from Memphis to Philadelphia International Records, updating the sound to, say, 1974. On it, Robinson sings in a slightly lower register with a much smoother timbre. Nominally speaking, the songs are originals written by Robinson and his cohorts, and they are love songs that alternate between contentment and anguish. But that doesn't really matter. The tunes are just platforms for the soul arrangements and Robinson's voice in music that is evocative and sincerely rendered, if derivative by definition.

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