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"Robbie Bartlett's Fans Know How To Pick 'Em"
Article by Marty Rosen, LEO, May 8, 2002

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When Robbie Bartlett was selecting the track list for her new CD "A Night With Robbie Bartlett" , she asked her fans what they wanted to hear. Give her fans credit for the good taste to recommend a superb list of tunes.

Then give Bartlett and her band credit for a set of scorching performances guaranteed to get you shimmying through the house like a barefoot child crossing a hot road in July. If you think cell phones and driving make a dangerous combination, be warned: Placing this album in your car's CD player is unwise.

Bartlett's last recording, "One Girl's Opinion"  was the subtle work of a smart stylist. Nuanced, reserved and reflective, it was an album that sucked me in after repeated listenings.  Here we have Bartlett unleashed.

Listening to "One Girl's Opinion" and "A Night With Robbie Bartlett" side-by-side is like comparing a spring shower to a tropical storm; the new album could just as easily have been called "Hurricane Robbie".

Her version of the Etta James classic "Something's Got a Hold On Me" works like a time machine.  If you yearn for the days when R&B was a bone-shaking, hip-twitching music ruled by women with towering voices and goddess-like authority, this cut will take you back. Somehow, Bartlett, guitarist Don Pollard, bass player Mark Richardson, drummer Dave Marasco and producer Jeff Carpenter have even managed to create a kind of bristly recorded sound seldom heard since the heyday of '60s R&B and soul - a kind of thin, bright glaze I thought could only be found in some long-forgotten Detroit recording studio.

It's a sound that persists through the final cut, a relaxed, finger-popping "Chain of Fools."

Along the way, Bartlett's fans picked some cherries from her typical playlist: Stevie Wonder's "Superstition",  Tracy Chapman's "Give Me One Reason", and Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Pride and Joy".

Bartlett's own "Don't Do Me Wrong" is a spurned lover's blues lament; her collaboration with Rusty Ends, "Change Is Coming", is a rock-tinged anthem from the mind-your-own-business school of independent thought.

Bartlett is at her best when she tests her dramatic instincts against supreme vocal challenges. Her interpretation of "Respect" goes deeply into the text, finding enough irony and yearning to transcend bar band simplicities.

Listen to the shifting timbre of her voice as she coddles each precious syllable of Billie Holiday's evergreen essay "God Bless The Child", sometimes on the edge of cynical tears, sometimes brassily certain of herself, and once hinting resignation with an acquiescent growl.

It's no surprise that Bartlett can growl and croon, but her ability to warble is something of a revelation here, especially on Al Green's "Let's Stay Together", which finds her at times airing a high register as silvery and graceful as Minnie Riperton's, then tweaking her phrases with breathy vibrato and carefully controlled swoops of joy.

And then there's her campy take on "Do You Want To Dance", a swaying romance that's convincing enough to turn even someone with two left feet into a budding Astaire.

A first pressing of the new album reportedly sold out almost as quickly as the copies came in, but by now there should be some in bins at your better record stores. Or you can buy direct. Over the next few weeks she has several gigs in Louisville and Lexington before heading to Europe, where she's developing quite the fan base. To keep up with her, check www.robbiebartlett.com.

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