With the worldwide release of Keepin’ It Real (enhanced CD HUCD 3067), keyboardist/vocalist Joe McBride adds another significant title to his impressive discography. McBride’s sixth recording for Heads Up International, Keepin’ It Real is a blend of contemporary jazz injected with a funky dose of R&B, and provides the perfect showcase for McBride’s touring band, the Texas Rhythm Club, with saxophonist Wayne DeLano, guitarist Todd Parsnow, bassist Rick Rigsby and drummer Sean McCurley. McBride’s longtime producer Martin Walters is at the helm once again.
"It’s never about turning my back on the sounds people have liked in the past," says McBride, "but rather adding new ideas into the mix. There was no overriding main theme here. It was just a matter of writing great new songs that show elements of the things I’ve been inspired by, whether that be certain styles of music, people I’ve met, places I’ve been. I’ve now played in South Africa four times, so of course it’s very dear to my heart. It was exciting being the first American to play at the Capetown Jazzathon Festival. Gospel’s always played a subtle role in my music, and I’m grateful to God for the talents he has given me.. I’ve always enjoyed Brazilian music, so working with Todd’s chordal acoustic guitar line on ‘Oí Gata’ (which means ‘Hey Sexy’ in Portuguese) was a blast, something totally new. I’m always trying to grow and change."
McBride bookends the collection with gritty, blues flavored vocal and instrumental versions of "Woke Up This Morning," also known as the theme to the HBO hit The Sopranos. McBride’s guttural vocal on the opener recalls the tongue in cheek spirit he brought to the title track on his last album; his bright piano rides over a swinging funk groove full of retro-soul elements. The instrumental version at the end of Keepin’ It Real substitutes DeLano’s smoky and sometimes blistering baritone sax for McBride’s voice over a spicy brass arrangement. Other tracks straying joyfully from the trademark McBride sound include the loping, South African flavored "Morning in a Distant Land," which conveys the bright sunrise via high register piano notes echoed with airy synth harmonies, tropical marimba and steel pan lines. There’s also the seductive Southern gospel tinged "His Name"; the acoustic soul driven vocal "Can’t Live Without You"; and the dreamy piano/soprano sax duet with DeLano called "When You Smile."
For longtime McBride enthusiasts, DeLano’s lighthearted, funky sax playing resumes in full force on tracks like "Lakewood" (an ode to the Dallas suburb where he lives, arranged around Rigsby’s serpentine bassline); the sparkling vocal track "Never Let You Go"; the lively soul-drenched "Kickin’ It"; and the irresistibly playful title track
"Keepin' It Real. "
McBride’s status as one of today’s most popular contemporary jazz musicians is rooted in a solid foundation of talent. Born in 1963 in Fulton, Missouri, he began playing piano at age four and started singing in high school. As a teenager, McBride contracted a degenerative eye disease and eventually went blind, but his passion for music was never impaired. He continued his studies at the Missouri School for the Blind and Webster University in suburban St. Louis.
When McBride finally stepped out as a leader in 1992 with Grace, his first CD for Heads Up International, he quickly became a favorite in the smooth jazz genre. His next recordings – A Gift for Tomorrow (1994), Keys to Your Heart (1996) and Double Take (1998) – featured some of the giants of contemporary jazz, including Grover Washington Jr., Peter White, Dave Koz, Rick Braun, Larry Carlton, and others. His 2000 release, Texas Rhythm Club, included his touring band and was a loving tribute to the Lone Star State’s underappreciated jazz scene. Among McBride’s many credits that year was a major supporting role in The Riff, a feature film about the New Orleans jazz scene (directed by Mark Allen and produced by Bernie Pollack).