Calvin, best known for his work with Ray Charles and Aahmad Jamal, returns with his first solo album in seven years. On 'Electric Keys' Calvin adeptly navigates straight ahead, Funk, and Blues, all the while maintaining the quintessential Calvin touch for which he is well-respected. Soul jazz is alive and well. With a sound that updates Wes Montgomery‘s fluid lines and combines that style with a head-nodding groove that will be familiar to fans of boogaloo revivalists such as The New Mastersounds and Soulive, Keys is in fact the real deal. Having cut his teeth as an able sideman to the likes of Ahmad Jamal and Jimmy Smith, Keys’ career releasing albums under his own name only began in earnest relatively recently; though 1997’s Standard Keys was his fifth album, the previous four were released across a span of some sixteen years.
Calvin Richardson made a small impression as part of the short-lived mid-'90s urban group Undercover, whose smooth contemporary soul showed the influence of Jodeci, childhood friends of Richardson. So, it shouldn't come as a great surprise that Country Boy, his 1999 solo debut, also recalls Jodeci (it even features K-Ci on the opening track, "I'll Take Her"). To Richardson's credit, he does show signs of developing his own vocal style, even if the music either is too close to Jodeci for comfort, or a little too generic. That said, there are several very strong songs – inlcuding the single "True Love," which features Chico DeBarge, and the Monifah duet "Close My Eyes" – that keep Country Boy enjoyable, even when it sounds a little samey.
We're not sure what the title means originally, but over the past few decades, it's come to stand for some heavy heavy guitar work from the legendary Calvin Keys! Keys has a very unique touch here – a mix of open chords and tighter lines – beautifully wrapping up a history of soul jazz guitar that stretches back to the early 60s – then propelling things forward with loads of righteous 70s spiritual jazz energy! The set also features loads of sweet keyboards – played by Larry Nash, and mixed with flute and "hose-a-phone" from Owen Marshall – set to grooves from Lawrence Evans on bass and Bob Braye on drums. A stone classic from the Black Jazz label – and titles include "Gee Gee", "BK.", "BE", and "Shawn-Neeq".
Since departing from the urban R&B group Undacova in the late '90s, Calvin Richardson has recorded infrequently. While his 1999 debut nu-soul set, Country Boy, was a knockout, it was critically underappreciated. He followed this in 2003 with another fine album, 2:35 P.M., and When Love Comes in 2008. That said, his 2009 offering, Facts of Life: The Soul of Bobby Womack, a full-length tribute to one of his primary influences, is a wildly ambitious but logical step. The dangers in doing a tribute to a legendary artist, especially Womack, one of soul music’s most storied and colorful legends as both a singer and songwriter, is a daunting task. But Richardson’s and Womack’s voices are very similar, though the latter’s is not as rough as the former’s and has more gospel in it, which works very well in adding to most of these songs.