With Amy Winehouse, Corrine Bailey Rae and Joss Stone bringing so much attention to the sound of old-school R&B, it was just a matter of time before a young male singer like Ryan Shaw got in on the retro action. The Georgia-bred son of Pentecostal parents, Shaw got his start singing in church and began his secular singing career in New York after coming east to perform in Tyler Perry's I Know I've Been Changed. He took the top prize several times at the Apollo Theater's renowned amateur night.
Shaw's strong, gospel-dipped tenor certainly would have worked on glossier contemporary material, but his love of R&B prevailed on his marvelous 2007 debut, This Is Ryan Shaw. To their credit, Shaw and his collaborators, Johnny Gale and Jimmy Bralower, didn't stick with safe choices on the album. Famous pleaders and hip-shakers who made pulses race and hearts pound nearly half a century ago get their due. Shaw ignites Jackie Wilson's "I'll Be Satisfied" with a joyous pop treatment that would fire up a dance party in any era. And if his performance on the Wilson Pickett vehicle "I Found Love" doesn't quite match the intensity of Pickett's hair-raising love cry, it definitely taps into the desperate ecstasy of youthful romance.
Shaw sounds even more inspired on minor hits and obscurities that have faded from the memories of all but the most dedicated R&B fans. A reading of the Sharpees' "Do the 45" is simultaneously pugnacious and joyous, and a caffeinated take on the Chairmen of the Board's peppy shout-out to peace, love and understanding, "Working on a Building of Love," hits on just the right mix of Motown-style sugar and social consciousness.
And unlike many of today's singing stars, Shaw isn't just a pretty face. In fact, his live shows have generated more hosannas than the album has. A vet of big gigs like Bonnaroo, he should be unstoppable in a small room like the High Noon. Not to mention incendiary.