It must be ‘Magic’: Robin Thicke’s got the summer banger of ’08

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A few days after the official start of summer each year, I think long and hard about what is going to be my certified banger for the season. What do I look for? Something I can dress to when I’m going out, something I can blast out of the ride on a drive through the city … just something that will capture the escape that hot summer days provide us from life’s mundane dramas and detours. I was leaning toward Lalah Hathaway’s “Let Go” for a minute, but I have to go with “Magic,” the latest single by none other than white boy R&B wonder Robin Thicke.

At the moment, it doesn’t get much better than this.

The song, which is currently at No. 32 on Billboard’s R&B chart, is on the Curtis Mayfield meets Soul II Soul tip and I love every minute of it. His blue-eyed soul croon has gotten even stronger than it was on “The Evolution of Robin Thicke,” and if it and this ditty are any indication of what we can look forward to on September’s “Something Else,” we are in for some hot shit. A subtle, horn-laden flash of a single worthy of the buzz it is generating, “Magic” is just that.

I don’t think Brother Thicke will be going anywhere anytime soon … and that’s a good look.

Check out “Magic” below.

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Vinyl examination: The ever wonderful Rockie Robbins

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The balladeer is an institution in black music. His odes to the joys of intimacy stir eroticism in sisters and provide brothers with all the right moves to bask in its fiery glow. In the late seventies and eighties, Barry White, Teddy Pendergrass, Peabo Bryson, Luther Vandross and Freddie Jackson, among others, rode the crest of romanticism created by their forefathers with a sensuality that was – and in many ways still is – unmatched. Whether hard or smooth, each had his own flavor when it came to singing about the need of love. In everyone from J. Holiday to Jaheim, you hear their influence.

However, caught in the rush of Bryson’s crosswinds and the house that wasn’t Vandross’ home was a talented young man from Minneapolis named Rockie Robbins. Between 1979 and 1985, the singer issued four albums (three for A&M and one for MCA) of light urban contemporary fare that have aged well over the years, even if they may not be what some would deem distinct. Though the lovely 1980 single “You and Me” became his only sizeable hit, Robbins’ material is quite popular among R&B fans and collectors. Each of his albums is infinitely listenable, but it’s his eponymous 1979 debut that remains the most endearing and ranks as my favorite.

Produced by Chicago visionaries Richard Evans and Johnny Pate, “Rockie Robbins” is reminiscent in many ways of Bryson at his peak, which is to be expected since Evans frequently collaborated with the popular singer. Agile ivory tickling, bubbly bass and punchy horns frame Robbins’ glass clear tenor quite nicely here, as they never thrust the singer into the background or force him to do back flips to make his mark in the mix. What you have is a breezy, low-key affair, and Robbins thrives beautifully.

Sensual and unaffected, Robbins’ voice was a perfect fit for the LP’s ballad selections. “If I Ever Lose You” and the languid “When I Think of You” are first rate, with the latter being the best cut on the album. Featuring an impassioned vocal and sweet strings, it’s the kind of song you could easily get lost in, even if it does only last a few short minutes. Such magic helped Robbins’ cover of the Earth, Wind and Fire favorite “Be Ever Wonderful” become a mid-charting single that climbed to No. 67 on the black singles chart. It didn’t top the original, but Robbins managed to bring a flair and emotion to the cut that I can honestly say I don’t quite get from the EWF version. Though only a modest chart success, the song became a radio hit and remains a favorite among Quiet Storm programmers across the country.

There’s very little dance material here, which is not necessarily a bad thing. While cuts like “Funk Street” and “Miss Dynamite” are solid toe-tappers, they don’t hold up past a few listens and do little to boost the record’s overall value. He fairs better on down-tempo grooves, as “I Can Hardly Wait,” “I Love You Only” and “Don’t Deny Me” are mellow enough to let his vocals shine and at the same time capture a bit of the youth and energy every new singer needs to display. “Sho’ is Bad” is the strongest of the lot, a slow burning slice of soft funk that could have easily been waxed by label mates The Brothers Johnson. When combined with the album’s love songs, such numbers not only casted the mold from which his follow-ups would emerge, they also showed Robbins was more versatile than a casual listener might expect.

Robbins would follow his self-titled debut with the albums “You and Me” (1980) “I Believe in Love” (1981) and “Rockie Robbins” (1985, not to be confused with his debut), all of which feature well-crafted songs and fine vocal performances. He also performed the song “Emergency” for the Grammy-winning hit soundtrack to the film “Beverly Hills Cop” in 1984. The “I Believe in Love” album in particular is worthy of interest for the inclusion of two songs that were featured on LPs by more popular singers during the same period: “Look Before You Leap” would surface on Cheryl Lynn’s Luther Vandross-produced LP “Instant Love” in 1982, while “My Old Friend” can be heard on Al Jarreau’s 1981 crossover jazz smash “Breakin’ Away.”

And despite the fact it’s highly sought after, Robbins’ debut remains out of print Stateside, though the occasional overpriced import will appear on eBay or Amazon. Thankfully vinyl copies of the album are easy to obtain without breaking the bank.

He never ascended to the ranks of many of his contemporaries but Rockie Robbins was a hell of a singer, noteworthy not because of earth-shaking bombast or chutzpah, but because of the simple, unpretentious character of his voice. His outstanding debut is a classy example of how sticking to the basics can be just as powerful and aiming to break through them.

These kids today could take some notes.

Aural ‘Sex’: Carrie and company’s ‘City’ paved with glittery grooves

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Outside of the context of the drop-dead-gorgeous “Sex and the City” film, the soundtrack would be little more than a collection of pink disco thumpers and understated ballads – another run-of-the-mill compilation album assembled to make a few quick bucks. When paired with the film, however, the songs emerge as a 55-minute party of joy and pain that’s as guilty a pleasure as the iconic franchise. Like the film – which, as a testament to the power of the girls and the gays, whooped Indiana Jones’ ass with a whopping $55.7 million at the box office this weekend – the tunes are as colorful as the designer dresses donned by the glamourzons who filled theater seats across the country to spend an evening with TV’s favorite urban socialites.

A big-city-cool jaunt of an album, the soundtrack is liveliest and most interesting as the dance material takes hold. I’m not the biggest fan of electronic music, but the best two cuts on the album fall into that mold: “I Like the Way” is a detached, ultra-hip jam from the creative mind of Chicago-born DJ and producer Kaskade, one of those club cuts that is atmospheric in its minimalist glory. In a similar mold is Nina Simone’s “The Look of Love,” which is served up here in the “Madison Park vs. Lenny B Remix.” The classy house groove props itself up nicely against the wall of sound that is Simone’s voice, making for an interesting spin on an oft-covered standard. The songs are sinewy blends of piano, vibes, synths and icy vocals that manage to evoke warmth absent from a great deal of the electronic music that propels dance floors into the stratosphere. Elsewhere, Morningwood and The Weepies rock a little on “New York Girls” and “All This Beauty” respectively, bringing an earthy foil to the urban slant of the up-temp material.

No well-oiled chick flick can function without some good love songs, and the ones here will surely please the amorous. Bliss’ lovely “Kissing” and The Bird and the Bee’s cover of The Bee Gees’ “How Deep is Your Love” are pure delights, while the always captivating India.Arie is at her best on “The Heart of the Matter.” The greatest one in the bunch, however, is a faithful interpretation of “Auld Lang Syne,” offered up by Mairi Campbell and Dave Francis. I won’t spoil the plot, but I will say it punctuates the lonely New Year’s Eve of two of the movie’s principal characters amazingly. The beautifully rendered song elevates the scene to a level of poignancy that would surprise those who think the movie possesses little to no redeeming value. For a moment, the song transforms from a cherished favorite to a slice of sonic narration.

For all its strong points, the crazy thing about the soundtrack is that the two most ballyhooed moments are the least memorable. I have to say upfront that Fergie annoys the shit out of me, so that may be part of the reason I’m not feeling “Labels or Love.” Imagined as a pop-song variation of the show’s classic theme song, it just doesn’t seem to work. If I want to hear something as irritating as “My Humps,” I’ll borrow somebody’s Black Eyed Peas CD. And the movie’s closing workout, the pleasant but ordinary “All Dressed in Love” finds Jennifer Hudson doing her damndest to bring life to what is a borderline lifeless song. A set of pipes as powerful as Hudson’s – and the ending of a film of this magnitude for that matter – deserves a better last hurrah. Still, J-Hud gives it all she’s got and the girl deserves her props.

All in all, the soundtrack for “Sex and the City” is just good, fashion-forward fun. It’s not the music from “Shaft,” “Superfly” or “The Graduate,” but it has a charm all its own. There’s enough energy here to fuel any night out on the town, cosmos and all. The spirit of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte definitely radiates from these ditties.

I so can’t wait for volume two.