Roy Roberts ‘Back in Love’ CD/DIG (Rock House) 5/5

I have been waiting nearly four months for this album to surface, having heard the subtle flowing title track on the Soul Discovery Show, and having popped its head up in the Blues Critic store I was in there pretty sharpish placing my order. Any new album by this giant of the blues is to be applauded from the roof tops, along with the likes of Johnny Rawls etc. he is one of the last purveyors of the old sound, essentially blues you can dance to but with enough soul to keep the likes of me happy. As usual the sound is lush, immense and full of surprises, Roy of course is a consummate, and very well-respected, guitarist in his own right, but on this album he also plays one of my favourites, a Hammond B3, piano and strings. He is also credited for writing nine of the ten songs presented. Eric Collands also lends a hand with Piano, Strings and the Hammond B3, Scott Adair takes care of the excellent Sax solos, we have Scott Adair and Rusty Smith to thank for the horns on the remake of “Let It Be Me” and “We Still Together”. There is another lovely voice on here too, take a huge bow Sherry Norris.

The dominant force on here is the subtle percussion, which drives the whole album without it getting to up in your face, everything else just feeds off that and Roy’s timing is impeccable. Over the years Roy’s voice has been likened to BB King, Ray Charles, Tyrone Davis and Brook Benton. We can trace Roy back to the early 60s, where he started out providing backing for such luminaries as Eddie Floyd, Solomon Burke and Otis Reading. He released his first 45 on Nina Simone’s Stroud label in 1967, and been on one hell of a ride ever since. He created his own label and released a stack of 45s, before albums began surfacing, never copying or trying to imitate anyone, just being himself. He was part of the group, Electric Express, when they had a million seller with “Real Thing”, which got picked up by Atlantic Records, and at the height of the disco craze he headed off to Nashville with the country music scene accepting him with open arms. He plied his trade as a guitarist within this genre for ten years touring with OB Clinton, and whilst all this was happening he was still releasing blues influenced 45s, acknowledging the impetus to get back into the blues being Robert Cray. In the early 90s, whilst sitting in his studio, he heard a track from them and he thought to himself that is my sound. The result, five albums in five years appeared which simply showcased what a master bluesman he was. For me personally the 2001 “Burning Love” set is the one that gets regular plays, his interpretation of Pickett’s “I’m In Love” is a truly sublime moment in time, if you have that set or any album from those five then the good news is that the voice is there, never straining, effortlessly conveying his mood and the feeling of that particular moment.

So to the music presented on here, only one track doesn’t do it for me, “Let it be me” should have been cut from the final ten. Betty Everett and Jerry Butler can never be beaten no matter how good you are, it’s from a certain time and belongs in that era, it’s a tune that conjures up all manner of memories for me so it wouldn’t matter who recorded it. However, the rest of the nine tracks are simply wonderful to these ears, top track for me is the strolling “Should Have Been Over”, which has been on repeat play so often my neighbours are humming along to it, with tinkling piano, an injection of saxophone and that restraining, almost soft, drumming. Another track of serious note is the melancholy head nodded “She Didn’t Know”, with more piano and some nice guitar runs too, as it seeps into your head and gets you humming away. For more of the same, try “You’re My Lady”. When you listen to Roy Roberts albums you can’t help thinking this is what inspired the James Hunter Six, whilst the JHS are definitely a 60s sounding band there are some very strong resemblances to Roy’s music. I mentioned Sherry Norris earlier, who surfaces on the rolling mid tempo duet “We Still Together”, with its fabulous horn injections. If like me you have stretched the boundaries of your soul music to have accepted the other genres of black music, then this really is an album for you, if you have never dipped your feet in the ocean that is the blues then look no further, it’s a sad fact but albums like this don’t stand a chance, no synths, no computer enhanced nonsense, no gimmicks and very few radio jocks who would even acknowledge its existence. CD only at the minute and very doubtful vinyl will ever appear.

Brian Goucher