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"When a woman sings the blues"
Article by Marty Rosen, LEO

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The first time I listened to singer Robbie Bartlett's new CD, Once Girl's Opinion  I was multi-tasking, which is to say I was, uh, not paying attention.

After it had spun, my wife asked me what I thought. "Well," I responded, "I wasn't really comfortable with the feel of that Bob Marley cover ('Is This Love?'). What did you think?"

"I liked it," she said. "It was different."

The next time I spun the disk, I cranked the volume and gave it something close to undivided attention. This time, when Bartlett launched into the first verse, "I want to love you, and treat you right," singing in big, bossy tones over crunchy guitar chords, the back of my neck started to tingle. When she sang the chorus, "Is this love that I'm feeling?" her voice suddenly looked inward, turning soft and reflective. By that time, I knew I'd better pay attention.

Bartlett has an unusual assortment of gifts. She has the vocal power of a club-toughened R&B singer and the interpretive smarts of a cabaret stylist. On this CD, one moment she's roaring through a Sam & Dave classic like "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down," and a few minutes later she's setting hearts on fire with a torchy version of the old standard "At Last." Her repertoire here includes horn-inflected blues by folks like Syl Johnson, new wave funk like Squeeze's "Black Coffee in Bed," "Be Good to Yourself" from the Scottish pub-rocker Frankie Miller and "Work to Do" by the Isley Brothers.

And she offers up a handful of originals and contributions by local artists. Her cover of Tim Krekel's "Love Can Be Fun" starts with a coy, persuasive wheedle, then morphs into a growling insistent anthem. As a writer, Bartlett is well versed in R&B conventions, and here she implores her lover, "Don't Do Me Wrong" over a churning bass-driven shuffle. Later she promises another, that "All I want to do is be by your side," over a fine mix of jazzy guitar and keyboard textures.

Throughout, Bartlett is assisted by an outstanding group of Louisville musicians, crisply recorded at Al Fresco's Place. Tanita Gaines and Susan O'Neil sing background vocals. Butch Morgan, Denny Inzer and Rusty Ends contribute guitar parts. Jim Baugher plays bass; Gene Wickliffe, drums, and David Barrickman and Rod Wurtele turn in some stellar piano and organ parts. Jerry and Richard Malone play saxes, and Ed Humphries, flute. Perhaps the strongest single instrumental performance is Peter Rhee's swooping, seductive violin interlude on "At Last," yet another reminder that Rhee is one of Louisville's finest instrumentalists.

But in the end, Bartlett show that when you get right down to it, she can manage quite well on her own, thanks, with a soaring a capella rendition of "Amazing Grace," sung with judicious vibrato and a few elegant ornamental flourishes.

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