Severn Records, the little record label that could, makes it to the top of the hill again with their recent release of blues/soul singer Tad Robinson's new CD, Did You Ever Wonder?
Robinson, who recorded previously for Chicago-based Delmark Records, has put out what could be the best CD of the year. It is truly a masterpiece, a disc that you will want to play again and again.
Backing Robinson is a crack band of Severn regulars, including the amazing talented guitarist Alex Schultz, keyboardists Benjie Porecki and Kevin McKendree, a 'right on the beat' rhythm section of drummer Marty Binder and bassist Harlan Terson, and a solid nine-piece horn section. The players on Did You Ever Wonder? contribute to the overall quality without ever detracting from Robinson's vocals, never trying to overwhelm the songs with their individual solos.
The album kicks off with the catchy, hook-laden "They Say," a Dan Penn composition that recalls the classic soul sound of Al Green during his Hi Records days. Schultz contributes the first of many scorching guitar solos. Restraining his vocals at first, Robinson prefers to give the listener a little tease of what's to come.
Robinson turns it loose on the band original "Did You Ever Wonder?," starting out with pleading, mournful vocals before building to a crescendo of passionate, powerful singing. He later pulls out his harmonica to compliment the band and provide more of a blues sound on the upbeat, Latin-tinged "The Bitter and the Sweet."
Soul legend Otis Clay joins in with backing vocals on the classic sounding "Too Late To Turn Back Now," one of the best numbers on the disc. This one's got a real East Coast Beach Music beat ... one can almost detect the scent of suntan lotion while imagining the sight of dancers shagging across the wooden dance floor. Schultz's guitar work here can be best described as tastefully subtle.
Robinson switches to more of a classic blues sound on "Woman Trouble," a slow B.B.-style number. The horns play a big role on this song, as does McKendree's nice piano break.
Another highlight is the cover of "Your Love Is Amazing," originally from Fear No Evil, the incredible 1991 rediscovery album on Black Top from Robert Ward (reviewed in Blues Bytes as a Flashback in June 1997. Robinson gives this 'amazing' song more of a soul treatment, while Schultz does his best to rival Ward's incendiary guitar work on the original. He's all over the fret board on this one; in a live setting, Schultz's solo would command a standing ovation.
Robinson's voice soars through the octaves on the slow ballad "Suffering With The Blues." Schultz continues to show off his multi-faceted talents with jazzy guitar licks during a stirring, mid-song solo.
"Welcome Home," with its message that love can be a good thing," is a number that fills me with a warm feeling every time I hear it. Clay makes a return appearance on background vocals here, while Porecki plays some nice piano.
The next song turns the mood completely to lost love, as "Pockets Full of Nothing" returns Robinson to more of a blues vein with an original that one could easily imagine being from the Robert Cray songbook. Schultz tears it up on guitar in the second half of the song.
Robinson slows it down again on the starkly beautiful "My Love Is Real," which verges on getting too syrupy at times without actually doing so.
Closing out this marvelous disc is a Bobby Bland-style number titled "Dying from the Blues," showing Robinson's ability to seamlessly take his audience from feeling good to feeling blue on each new song.
It's always risky picking a favorite CD this early in the calendar year, but I highly doubt that I'm going to enjoy anything else as much as Did You Ever Wonder? This one's a keeper!
--- Bill Mitchell
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