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Published on May 19, 2009
"The funny part of how Rock Steady (2010) took shape is that I had the whole retro-soul idea in place when I started to write and record Metro Blue, Richard says. But because I dont like to limit the way the creative flow is going, that album took on a decidedly European flavor, which turned out so well that we kept going with it. So we got a bit sidetracked but in a good way, and Rock Steady gets back to that original idea. I see all of my solo albums as if they are vocal albums but using the sax as the voice, and once again, I had fun challenging myself as a writer and player, offering the latest step of my evolution in these areas. When formulas work in the past, many artists have a tendency to do the same thing again and again. But it's more exciting to forge ahead and try new ideas that fit into my natural growth as an artist."
Beyond working with his longtime core touring band members Ron Reinhardt (keyboards), Dwight Sills (guitar), Nate Phillips (bass) and Ricky Lawson (drums), he ensembles with Braun, who is also the albums co-producer. Also of note are percussion great Luis Conte, keyboardist Jeff Lorber, saxophonist Gerald Albright and trombonist Nick Lane; veteran singer Lynne Fiddmont steals the show on the title track with her infectious What It Is vocals. Lorber adds his clever keyboard flair to Straight Up, a track he wrote with Elliot, Braun and Albright; and the silky and atmospheric seduction License To Chill, a co-write by Lorber, Elliot and Braun. Elliot and Albright toured together in the early 2000s (with Lorber) as part of the Groovin For Grover tribute phenomenon, but Rock Steady marks the first time these two powerhouse saxmen have recorded together.
The three foundational tunes Elliot tackles on Rock Steady are Curtis Mayfields Move On Up, whose original nine minute version appeared on the singers 1970 debut album Curtis; the Aretha Franklin-penned title track, which was a Top Ten pop hit for the Queen of Soul from her 1971 album Young, Gifted and Black; and Keep On Truckin, a #1 pop hit for Eddie Kendricks in 1973, two years after he left the Temptations.
Saved for the last track is Keep On Truckin', whose title is as much a metaphor for Elliots lengthy and fruitful, full of twists and turns career, as Rock Steady is the projects big production number, a complete 70s soul immersion balancing throbbing funk grooves with cool sax verses, soaring horns and even a shimmering synth vibes flavor courtesy of Reinhardt.
Other key tracks which further reveal the diversity Elliot forges within the overriding theme include the sensuous and slow burning Yaquala, named for the wife of the songs co-writer, keyboardist Tim Gant; Candice Dance, a cut titled for Elliots teenage daughter, whose whirlwind personality is perfectly reflected on yet another intense blast of energy that the saxman likens to the wind carrying furniture up into a massive tornado; and Spindrift, a co-write by Elliot and bassist Nate Philips that artfully blends electronica atmospheres with a shuffling dancehall vibe.
The Scotland born, L.A. raised Elliot found his musical voice on tenor as a teenager and landed his first professional gig touring with Natalie Cole and The Pointer Sisters while he was still in high school. Before joining Tower of Power—which began a stretch that he calls the most influential period of my early career—he played in the adventurous fusion band Kittyhawk and did some dream recording sessions with his Motown heroes Smokey Robinson, The Four Tops and The Temptations.
In addition to his participation in the current decades all-star tours like Groovin For Grover and Jazz Attack, in the mid-90s he helped launch another of the genres annual franchises, the Guitars & Saxes tours, which he continues to participate in. At his peak, Elliot was annually doing over 100 tour dates, but he has scaled back to spend more time with his family.
"I think calling this new album Rock Steady was an obvious and inspired choice for many reasons, Elliot says. The music that inspired the CD has an enduring quality and is part of our American musical heritage. Beyond that, its the perfect metaphor for the good fortune I have had to be doing what I love to do for so many years. I took a risk leaving top for a solo career and never dreamed at the time that I would still have these wonderful opportunities to record and tour over 20 years later. I don't gauge my career based on sales, popularity and money. However, what matters most is my personal and artistic growth and the opportunities that reveal themselves as I evolve."