I love it when this happens. Totally out of the blue comes a CD, by an artist I am unfamiliar with, and it blows my socks off.
Rob McNelley has been kicking around Nashville for awhile. He’s played guitar with the likes of Wynonna Judd, Lee Ann Womack, and Allison Moorer. He’s currently working with Delbert McClinton. All of that might lead you to believe he leans to the country side. That would be wrong. On is one of the most soulful records you’ll hear this year.
It’s obvious Rob has always had “big ears.” Influences here range from the Beatles, to Sly and the Family Stone, to good-old garage rock. Rob’s guitar playing is everywhere. But it’s so subtle and subversive you have to listen close to hear all the great stuff he’s doing. He’s not the kind of player who hits you over the head. Rather, he crawls up under your skin and flows to various parts of your body. And that, even though it sounds a little odd, is a good thing.
Check out the major-league funk of “Angelina.” The horn-driven tune is accented by great rhythm work and big-fat fills that just sing. The James Brown-style funk of “Alrite, Alnite” lets him showcase his tight, focused playing. Suspended chords float above the wonderful “Like A Feather” and help the chorus become one of those sticky hooks you just can’t get out of your head. The songwriting here (McNeeley wrote or co-wrote everything) is incredible. Every song has a great hook. In fact some have great lyrical hooks, and great musical hooks too. And, each tune tells a nice story of some sort. Heck, one song even references the live album by Donny Hathaway. Can’t go wrong with that.
Vocally, this is almost a perfect record. Like his guitar playing, his vocals slink in and out of songs, and it’s not until the song is stuck inside your head like glue that you realize how good this really is. His singing on the soul ballad “Bring It Back” is a perfect mix of Sly and blue-eyed soul. It sounds like an odd match, but those appear throughout the record and work great. Check out “What Could be Someday.” The George Harrison-style slide intro leads right into a Philly soul feel, and it fits together like a tight puzzle. Pick it up at robmcnelley.com.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Nov. ’04 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.