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Robinson Wall Project - Vol 1 (Black Rain Records, 1993)

On perhaps the most soulful House album you will ever listen to, John Robinson and Willie Wall take you on a journey through the romantic, the spiritual and the socio-political, all wrapped within a beautiful melange of hopeful chords and vocal work.

We have discussed many times the varying stems that can be found within House Music, but its not often we come across a producer or producers who manage to encapsulate so many of these threads within one sound or collection of records. The 90s in particular saw an explosion of styles come to the fore, building upon the original Chicago sound and thrusting it into a new decade, as Garage House, Deep House and many more came to dominate the clubs and the after parties. The minds of John Robinson and Willie Wall certainly were able to capture this new energy within their bottle, and the results of which are a short but incredibly meaningful discography, one that perfectly reflects the spirit of the time and to this day carries a sound that packs a punch both rhythmically and emotively. Robertson was a DJ and producer based in NYC who was involved with the Blue Moon Orchestra, whilst Willie Wall was a producer with many credits to his name, releasing under a slew of group projects on the likes of Nervous, Strictly Rhythm and Emotive Records. The two bought their collective heads together on the Robinson Wall Project, where they would form the basis of a sound which catered for all manner of heads and situations, be it a late evening jam or a moment to remember at 5am, as the sun light filters through into the club windows. There was a care freeness to the music, with a significant emphasis on vocals which pointed both towards the prevailing garage house style at the time and also to the traditions of the original Chicago sound, with the bridge being crafted with the utmost care and eye for detail. The group released two EPs, 'Deep Down' which came out in 1995, and 'Party for Freedom' in 96, which both featured the wonderful Gary Michael Wade. Both cuts are excellent examples of vocal Deep House, with their expanded nature giving plenty of time to move between the grooves and soak up the powerful vocal work and deep, diving chords and bass lines. The power of the rhythm still holds so very strong to this day, with a cutting edge feel maintaining a contemporary gleam that carries the dance on and on and on, never faltering in its mission to make us move our feet. Be sure to go check these two records out, plus the haul of records that the duo released within their individual and other group projects - its House music of the highest order.

And now we arrive at the subject of today's review, 'Vol. 1', the record that kickstarted it all. Released in 1993 on Robinson's Black Rain records, 'Vol 1' contains six cuts of the highest order, with their style heavily reflective of the Garage House sound that was reverberating around at the time but in many ways there is an originality here that still amazes to this day. Over the course of the record the listener is treated to the fullest spectrum available of the genre, with beautiful seering melodic loops placed upon expertly curated rhythmic structures, and to top it all off the vocal work on display is peerless in its delivery and vocal content. You have the bombastic peak time moments, the groovin' day time notions, and you have the times where you simply remain carried along, the ecstasy of it all lifting spirits and hearts to new heights of understanding. Its House Music at its most pure, most polished, and its most emotionally raw, and as an experience you fall in love almost immediately. John Robinson tragically passed away in the late 90s, but his legacy is set in stone for time infinitum, with what he created here a small reflection of his talents and his vision - so lets take a dive into this superb slice of excellence, a timeless classic that will never, ever falter....

Up first comes Bryan with the track 'Stand Up (Remix)', and this one starts with that iconic piano sequence to get things going. The chords aren't left alone for long, as the drums slide into view to provide a breathtaking rhythmic foundation, and this is when the vocals slide in across the top end that help to drive the track into the stratosphere. The first verse floats by, tingling the senses and the bones within, channelling directly into our souls as we drift onwards and upwards through into the heavens. The chorus and the segment that follow it are glorious, with the background vocals doing much to add weight and gravatas to the situation, with the additional horn sampled keys and the delicate swirls fuelling the core melodic drive. The chords take a break around the half way mark which provides a more empty feel to the track, a sombre contrast to the emotion fuelled segments which followed before. The vocals filter through the top ends to great effect here, drifting around the pan as if they wish to speak into both ears individually, before the chords come right back into view, eager to provide one final explosion of emotive energy. What a tune this one is. 'Family Prayer' comes next, and this one wears its heart on its sleeve. The four chord piano sequence lovingly lays itself out above the pulsating kicks and hat, and before long the vocals beautifully place themselves within the medley, with the vibraphone doing much to add texture within the backdrop. The chorus hits hard in all the right ways, the vocals here never having to lift right off the ground, they merely float in this perpetual state where goodness oozes from every corner. This arrangement continues onwards and upwards, the power of it all never faltering or loosing focus, with the mid section seeing some longing cries of 'all is peace/all is joy/all is love', and you can't help but throw your hands in the air for this kind of climatic excellence. This one just rolls, rolls and then some, top draw. 'Party for Freedom' arrives next, and this one starts with the drums and bass line to get things moving. The vocals then laid in a hip house kind of style, their intro doing much to serve up the flavour which is to unravel next and serve as a reminder to head straight for the dancefloor. The power found within the rhythm section is highlighted as the melodic section comes into view for just a moment, and this is when the vocals arrive in the rear view mirror. The verse sees some delicate stabs start to reverb in and around the backend, with the chorus that arrives next one to savour with its call to arms to join in the fun. The second verse sees the vocal application revert back to old school Chicago house style spoken word, with the shifts between this and the verse doing much to keep the energy flowing with grace and fever. Power is found here in great abundance.

Up next comes 'Stick Together', and this one begins fully formed and ready to charge. The chords and electronic horns do much to bind the listener to the groove, with the vocals up top lifting the soul to new heights, with the combination of all the elements simply hitting all the right notes. As we slide into the verse the focus is drawn primarily towards the vocals as the melodic elements strip away ever so slightly, the gaps between allowing the voices to reach their fullest potential. The verse is as full as ever, and the additional key lines within the second verse are mesmerising. The extended second chorus continues to inspire tremendously, as we float along on a bed of exquisite house notions, always finding time to fall between the layers and keep our minds firmly engaged with everything. There's time for one final vocal salvo, and oh boy does it continue to hit all the right notes, the song's power firmly set in stone as the night is lifted up, carried along on a sea of some of the best 90s house notions you could ever come across. Solid as a rock, as relevant as ever, this is just awesome. Up next comes another stellar effort, 'More I Get', which features Russell Patterson on vocal duties, and this one, well, yep. The chords are immediately inviting, with the drifting words from Patterson simply mesmerising up top, and as the kicks come into view there is much to cover and fall in love with. The duality that persists between the piano and the synth lines is a thing of beauty, with the shifts in energy between the verses and choruses helping to keep the fire burning intensely as time passes by. The slip into the second verse helps to maintain the fuel, our attention purely set on the rhythm and the dance, our bodies letting loose as we give in to the purity of it all, the age old activity of giving yourself over to it all. Its the kind of House track that has it all - a pumping percussive section, a driving and technically superb melodic top layer, and a captivating vocal performance, all rolled neatly into this sprawling and deeply impressive series of structures that bring tears to the eyes of all those who come across it. Simply the best, this one. To wrap things up on this excellent album, we have the remix of 'Family Prayer', and this takes things into dubby territories. The drums are accompanied on this one by a deep bassy chordal structure, which chimes along to the kicks and provides this intensely deep undercurrent, with the vocals applied to great effect, their presence never overpowering the delicate interplays that persist underneath. The groove is on point here, taking parts from the original and stripping them down to their bare essence, and as an alternative mix it works so very well. Its a fitting end to a truly iconic record, one which provides all the goodness you could ever ask for and then some, all wrapped up in a beautiful melange of rhythm, melody and vocal work.

There are some house records that continue to reach out from their origin point and never cease to completely mesmerise, and that is testament to the heads behind it all who poured their hearts and souls into proceedings. John Robinson and Willie Wall really did leave a legacy for themselves which continues to inspire, and with this record they bought together a collection of tracks that still do the business today and forevermore. A hefty collection of meaningful and deep House cuts that carry you along and don't let go, eager for the listener to continually engage with the variations in layers and textures which help to nurture a sense of soul and self. Every track brings something different to the table, curating a vibe that keeps the mind on track and the soul catered for on every level, and as such this record for us represents the very best of 90s House, indeed the House genre in general. If you like your rhythms effective, your melodies sublime, and your vocal work inspiring, then this is the record for you. Beauty personified.

Check out the record here:

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