One Track Mind: Ryan Shaw, "Karina" (2012)

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Is there a place for, you know, an American in a world of soul shouters dominated by a certain big-voiced Brit superstar? Cut to two-time Grammy-nominated R&B singer Ryan Shaw, who returns on May 15, 2012, with Real Love on Dynotone Records — an sizzling album that perhaps finds its emotional peak with “Karina.”

Shaw thrillingly melds R&B sounds both old and new, with no small amount of credit probably going to veteran producer Jimmy Bralower — who has helped stir up similar genre-busting triumphs with the likes of Hall and Oates (“Say It Isn’t So,” “Out Of Touch”), Steve Winwood (“Higher Love”) and Eric Clapton (“Tears in Heaven”), among others.

There’s an element of sleek Motown sophistication to “Karina” at first, a buttoned-down old-school cool, but then by its middle Shaw begins to let loose a little — and the groove gets deeper, traveling down the Mississippi Valley, toward the humid salaciousness of Memphis and New Orleans. Even as “Karina” gets a little more rangy, though, and little more tangy, it keeps building (like the best Stax songs from Otis Redding, another Georgia-born belter) into this almost orgasmic sense of passionate abandon.

If there’s a knock on this fun throwback (and it’s a small one), it’s that Shaw’s vocals — fearless, distinctive but honey dripped and a little reedy at times — simply don’t have the gravy-soaked gravel character that Redding possessed. Then again, you know, who does?

Since bursting onto the scene with the well-received 2007 debut The Is Ryan Shaw, the New York-based singer has followed up with 2010’s It Gets Better, which like its predecessor included credible versions of standard-bearing gems — this time, “People Get Ready” and “Knock On Wood.” He’s already garnered a pair of Grammy noms for best traditional R&B vocal performance, and opened for everyone from John Legend and to Van Halen. But he hasn’t always sounded like his own man, his own voice.

What “Karina” makes clear is that Ryan Shaw is getting better at combining those influences into something that sounds uniquely his — that, in short, shows Shaw is here to stay: Adele, better watch your back.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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