DeRobert & The Half Truths - I'm Tryin

DeRobert & The Half Truths
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You can smell the red clay and cypress. The air of DeRobert & The Half Truths is heavy with Southern perspiration and swamp funk. The foot-stomp of the church, the rebel yells of call and response, the sway of cardboard Jesus fans in a sweat pregnant breeze, the sticky cool of sweet tea in the summertime; these evocations bloom throughout DeRobert & The Half Truth’s committed retro soul offering. With a lead whose gospel hoarse tenor immediately draws comparisons to the Tony-winning Broadway star, Billy Porter, and a brass heavy band that specialized in the funkier side of Southern soul, DeRobert & The Half Truth’s sophomore project, I’m Tryin’, is a reverential homage to the old time religion of raw soul.

You can smell the red clay and cypress. The air of DeRobert & The Half Truths is heavy with Southern perspiration and swamp funk. The foot-stomp of the church, the rebel yells of call and response, the sway of cardboard Jesus fans in a sweat pregnant breeze, the sticky cool of sweet tea in the summertime; these evocations bloom throughout DeRobert & The Half Truth’s committed retro soul offering. With a lead whose gospel hoarse tenor immediately draws comparisons to the Tony-winning Broadway star, Billy Porter, and a brass heavy band that specialized in the funkier side of Southern soul, DeRobert & The Half Truth’s sophomore project, I’m Tryin’, is a reverential homage to the old time religion of raw soul.

I’m Tryin’ does more than try, it often succeeds. Consistent in melody and tone, the project is cohesive, if single-minded to a fault. The love the house band for G.E.D. Soul Records has for a very specific brand of ‘60s soul that would have found a home in such studios as FAME and Muscle Shoals or labels like Stax, lacks the bottom and the bite of those storied label’s house bands, but makes up for it in talent and sincerity. Just two albums deep, there is time for that to develop, though in some ways more grit was present in their super serious, groove heavy 2010 debut, Soul in a Digital World.

In the meantime, there is something special germinating in their earnest sound this go-round. From the sass of “My Momma Told Me” to the accapella church and human rhythms of “I’m Tryin’,” DeRobert & The Half Truths fits in nicely among fellow torchbearers Charles Bradley, Lee Fields & The Expressions, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, and Vintage Trouble. Unlike many of those other outfits, there is a lightness of being that comes across their sonic waves, even when they’re singing about a break-up, as with the infectious “Write Me A Letter.” They play on the fringes of early hip hop with a James Brown tinged song like “Ooo Wee” and the dismissive “Goin’ Places,” whose underlying charm lies in their masculine chorus akin to boys at the basketball court jonesing about life, love and empty pockets. It’s not all relationship fare, when a panoramic doo-wop lamentation is laid against a brass rhythm for “The Dole, Pt. 2,” the darker sequel to “The Dole” from Soul in a Digital World, crooning about the vagaries of poverty. A bit of psychedelia is added to the mix with “Get On It,” a moody blues that David Porter and Issac Hayes could have penned two generations ago.            

Throughout this funky blues ‘n’ soul project, DeRobert’s raspy voice is a marriage of Donny Hathaway and Billy Porter in timbre and phrasing, though he’s more of a straight-ahead singer than Porter, often foregoing riffs and runs for power belts, with the notably exception of the sweetly inquisitive “Please Shine On Me.” He’s never less than pitch perfect and always sits nicely in the mix, thanks to producer/engineer/drummer Nick DeVan and co-producers Dave Singleton and DeRobert Adams himself. The background vocalists are more workmanlike than inspired on their Chi-Lites harmonies, but they get the job done.

I’m Tryin’ is through and through a comfortable ride with solid songs and performances. A bit more adventurousness in arrangement and melody would edge them over from good to unforgettable, but for now, DeRobert and the Half Truths deliver the kind of feel good undeniably soulful album the old timers swear aren’t being made anymore, making that tale just one more half-truth in the world.  Recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

 

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