March 22, 2011

Rod Kelley - Mama's Boy

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a personal perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. The multi talented Rod Kelley never forgot what his mother told him, that he could be “anything he wanted to be”. It inspired him to make music, and years later, with Barack Obama elected to the United States Presidency, he is reminded that his mom's words were true.

Annie Ruth Wise Kelley loved the music of the day, the soul of Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Otis Redding and James Brown, music that propelled a whole generation of artists to a position in American society which, before the advent of popular music culture, could never have been possible. Indeed it is interesting to speculate how James Brown, if he had been alive to witness Obama’s inauguration, might have put his own musical spin on the new found feeling of ‘living in America’. With his latest CD, Mama’s Boy, Rod reflects all of this and in so doing includes music that he believes would have made his mother proud. Not only that, the recording pays generous tribute to her and sends out a beacon of inspiration to those who in their own lives have been held back through fear or doubt.

Rod has huge love and respect for what he describes as ‘the mother of lands,’ Africa, and of his ancestry as an African American. He opens Mama’s Boy with the languid, easy grooving ‘Moments’ that he co-writes with long time collaborator Todd Bethel. It shimmers with the African rhythms that he holds so dear and carries the message that we should savor every precious moment that life presents to us. This is a premise that Rod returns to often and underpins many of the beliefs that he formed while still a boy. Rod’s happily grooving and retro tinged ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’ leads snuggly into his cover of Michael McDonald’s ‘Taking It To the Streets’ which he not only infuses with a wonderful gospel warmth but also uses as a commentary on his formative years when growing up in the ‘Projects’ of Bowen Homes, Atlanta, GA. These were times when community spirit was everything and Rod still cherishes the recollection of hearing Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. speak during one of his many visits to the city.

Of course Dr King’s dream did come true and with ‘POTUS, the 44th’ , Kelley, with the help of an edgy rap from Joel “Profit” Kelley, tips a funky hat to Barrack Obama and the new hope he has given to millions.

The album’s central theme is spectacularly brought to mind by the spine tingling ‘Mothers Love’ where vocals from Tawana Lael work to perfection and Kelley further respects the memory of his late mother with the sumptuous ‘I See The Look In Your Eyes’ which, courtesy of his own velvety vocal, proves to be an authentic slice of nostalgia laden, old school soul.

Rod’s mother passed away when he was only ten years old. She was a gospel recording artist with the group Souls of Faith and Rod is certain that if she had lived she would have gone on to become the Queen of Soul. Consequently, it is no surprise that Kelley finds space for a song from the proclaimed Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. ‘Natural Woman’ is delivered with an understated swagger, the addition of fabulous sax from Karen Green plus the stunning backing vocals of Maria Kelley, Symone Kelley & Stewart Gardner which combine to make it feel brand new. In a way it sums up the groove of the entire collection and much the same can be said about the incredibly tight ‘Fat Chance’ which demonstrates that special knack Kelley has for playing contemporary urban jazz that can look back whilst remaining totally current.

Rod’s valve trombone driven ‘Sexy Bone (My Little Groove)’ serves as a short but extremely rhythmic transitional track and when it is reprised as ‘Tickle These (My Little Groove)’ his switch from trombone to keyboards represents how, over the years, his focus has changed from one instrument to the other. Both stand alone as mini masterpieces and as the album concludes with a great version of Quincy Jones’ ‘The Streetbeater’ (aka the theme from Sanford & Son) there can be no question, Rod’s Mama really would have loved it.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at March 22, 2011 7:43 PM