Blue Erro Soul [Release date 16.03.20]
“We celebrating music tonight and we celebrating those who have made music and made art”. So proclaims Eric Roberson, he might also proclaim that he’s celebrating those who make music independently. In the age of streaming, an independent artist might not seem that revolutionary but Eric Roberson has been kicking out R&B jams without major-label support since the early noughties. Signing to Warner Brothers in 1994, Roberson’s intended debut album never materialised and this seems to have been the inciting incident that shaped the rest of his career. From 2003 onwards he has turned out records almost annually on his own label Blue Erro Soul (derived from his nickname Erro), while offering his writing and producing skills to other R&B stalwarts like Musiq Soulchild and Carl Thomas.
2009 saw the release of ‘Music Fan First’ arguably Eric Roberson’s most successful album, garnering two Grammy nominations and his biggest radio single to date, ‘Dealing’ featuring Lalah Hathaway. Consistent touring has always been Roberson’s meat and potatoes and last year found him celebrating ten years of ‘Music Fan First’ by taking an anniversary tour out on the road. ‘ERRO LIVE: VOL. UK’ his new live set, offered for free on his website, finds Eric and the band at Islington Assembly Hall. This writer was lucky enough to catch the same tour in Manchester and the album does a good job of capturing the feel-good, party atmosphere.
Kicking off with ‘Music Fan First’s’ original opener The Newness, immediately the listener is assured that they are in safe hands. Roberson’s band is dextrous and versatile, drummer Mark Thomas has a heavy yet freewheeling style and Chris Stevens brings soulful swagger with his trumpet. While some soul men choose to cut a mysterious Prince-like figure, Roberson immediately strikes up a rapport with his audience, by letting them feel like they are included in the cheeky asides between Eric and his backing vocalists, DMo Macklin and Jeff Murrell. This is evidenced no better than their tongue-in-cheek medley of Hip Hop covers, including Method Man’s All I Need and Big Poppa by The Notorious B.I.G.
It wouldn’t be an R&B gig without the opportunity to turn the lights down low and croon to the ladies. Roberson, ever the generous host, offers up Break It Down with the intention of “helping the fellas get some”. When he goes to a more serious place on ‘Dealing’, Roberson turns in a pleading, poignant performance and once again it’s notable how much the backing singers add to the overall vibe, allowing Roberson the ability to harmonise and create a richer sound.
A staple of Eric Roberson gigs is his ability to improvise a jam with lyric suggestions from the audience and the resulting freestyle is undoubtedly the sexiest song ever written about fish and chips as well as a testament to Erro’s quick wit! The closing encore allows guitarist Ian Macaulay to cut loose and show some blues chops along with some funk licks on Picture Perfect. ‘ERRO LIVE: VOL. UK’ is a classy tour souvenir for fans of grown up soul and in a period where we’re robbed of being able to attend gigs, a welcome gift. ****
Album available for free from: https://ericrobersonmusic.com/
Review by Phillip Beamon
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