An interesting mini-trend in R&B music over the past year has been the rediscovery of 60s soul grooves. I'm not speaking of the plethora of "covers" albums by veteran artists trying to use familiar tunes to reconnect with their older audiences; rather, this is about a new generation of singers adopting an unapologetic, if somewhat reverential, view of artists from Sam Cooke to Sam & Dave and creating fine new music on a foundation of classic Detroit, Memphis and Chicago. The result has been a number of critically-acclaimed discs by vocalists such as Ricky Fante, James Hunter and Amy Winehouse (and in the case of the latter, corresponding commercial success).
Newcomer Ryan Shaw has now entered this emerging field with This Is Ryan Shaw, a debut album that is principally aimed at recreating and updating the vibe of early Motown, and which is an absolute success. Shaw has a nearly ideal voice for the effort, a unique combination of Bobby Womack and Terence Trent D'arby that whoops, wails and pleads its way through this series of tracks like an old master. Perhaps more important is the song selection -- often the bugaboo of these types of projects. Shaw and veteran producers Johnny Gale and Jimmy Bralower have chosen eight mostly obscure covers from such artists as the Sharpees, the Chairmen of the Board and Wilson Pickett that deserved unearthing, and which get royal treatment here. Perhaps most surprising are the three original Shaw compositions, "We Got Love," the first single "Nobody" and the album closer "Over & Done." All are melodically compelling and stand toe-to-toe with the classic compositions that surround them.
The arrangements are sparse and funky throughout, from the Junior Walker-like groove of "Do the 45" to the simply electric guitar lead on "I'll Always Love You." Best of all is the unlikely reworking of the Four Tops' "I Am Your Man," a brilliantly passionate track that Shaw makes his own, arguably even surpassing the original version.
It is unclear where Ryan Shaw goes from here. Does he continue as a "retro" act or does he move to contemporary R&B on his next disc? Fortunately that's a question that can wait for another day. For now, it is worth celebrating This is Ryan Shaw, a roll-down-your-window-and-crank-it-up album that is nearly perfect Summer fare and one of the most unadulterated joys of 2007. Highly recommended.
by Chris Rizik
CLICK HERE to hear clips from This is Ryan Shaw