ALBUM REVIEW: ERIC ROBERSON – MUSIC FAN FIRST

eric_roberson_music_fan_first cover

Eric Roberson is possibly the dark horse of the R&B/soul world. He has slowly and steadily built a loyal fan base through tireless touring and a consistently excellent output. He might not have had the exposure or major label-backing as some of his contemporaries – several for whom he has written songs– but he is far and away one of the best breakthrough acts of the past ten years.

Erro returns this year with another future classic Music Fan First – his follow-up to the gorgeous Left album. He seems to go from strength to strength with each new release and Music Fan First might be his most outstanding record yet… Roberson can craft a tune so classy and instant in its appeal you wonder why no-one has thought of it before. Vocally, he’s also on top of his game, making fuller use of his range and killing us softly with mouth-watering harmonies.

From the Hip Hop heavy beat of the opening track “The Newness” Roberson lets the listener know that he’s as devoted to the craft as the album title suggests. Even the artwork and the brief but detailed inlay card notes prove his heart is fully in every aspect of the music making process. He dedicates the album to one of his musical idols, the late great Michael Jackson. (The inlay card is a gift to those, like me, who have always enjoyed the buzz of handling and reading them cover to cover, be it vinyl, cassette or CD- something missing almost entirely in the era of the download).

Perhaps because he’s free from the record company politics of more mainstream artists, there’s no sense on an Erro record that he’s not being true to his creative self. He straddles the delineation between R&B and soul better than most. His R&B has a timeless feel. Listening to tracks such as “Howard Girls,” “Further,” “Breakitdown” and “Weekend Getaway” I am convinced Eric, alongside the likes of Marsha Ambrosius, is part of the current (and welcome) revival of late night radio, quiet storm-90’s style jams. “Dealing” a beautiful duet featuring Lalah Hathaway sounds like something off SWV’s excellent 1996 sophomore album “New Beginning.”

Music Fan First‘s soulful tunes –such as “The Hunger” and the Minnie Ripperton sampled ‘A Tale of Two’– belong in any modern-soul classic best-of list. There are plenty of memorable dance floor fillers on here too. “Borrow You,” “Bad For Me,” “How Could She Do It”<em> and the aforementioned “Further” are sure to make many an appreciative listener jump to their feet for years to come.

Erro in the groove

However Erro’s not simply about the groove. By now anyone familiar with Roberson’s previous output would be used to his heart-on-sleeve, conversational type of lyricism. Such sincerity is unique in a genre that can be as notoriously shallow as R&B. All right, I admit I wish not every Erro tune had to be about love and romance but perhaps that’s what he knows to do best – he’s clearly a balladeer at heart. The tune-worthiness of a track does not preclude a strong moral. “Wanna Believe It Again” is an epic song in which our hero is trying unsuccessfully to resist the charms of a capricious ex-lover (a recurring theme on MFF). “The Power that Kisses Hold” offers some advice to long term couples on how to keep the spark alive. “Dealingspeaks of some kind of forbidden love – not being too specific maybe as a way of not isolating the listener. The Hunger is a cautionary tale of not allowing lust and fleeting emotion to dictate our choices in a relationship. A “Tale of Two” makes no bones about its anti-infidelity message. Even the future club-anthem “Borrow You” carries some warning about how a platonic dance with a married lady can lead to its own conflict of emotions. Let it be said that Roberson doesn’t pontificate – but he clearly wants to use his platform to share something more meaningful with his fans, present and future – and that can’t be a bad thing.

There are no fillers on MFF; an impressive feat for a 17-track album with no intro, interludes or outro. Even the ‘weaker’ tracks (“Pave A New Road,” “Celebrate” and “Wanna Believe it Again” on which guest artist Wayna sounds more shrill than sweet) can’t be overlooked.

With its own brand of soulful sophistication, Music Fan First is a compulsory purchase for anyone with an ear for quality.

Tolita

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