Keepin’ It Real by Joe McBride and the Texas Rhythm Club – Reviewed by Chris Mann



Missouri-born keyboard player and singer Joe McBride began playing the piano at the age of four.  Early influences were gospel, bebop, straight-ahead jazz, Motown and '70s R&B and funk. As a teenager he began singing and playing at jazz clubs.  

He later majored in jazz performance at Webster University in St. Louis and attended the University of North Texas.  Around 1983, McBride moved west to San Diego and began playing with Fattburger and guitarist Steve Laury

McBride was overwhelmed with performing offers during a visit to his brother in Dallas and he made a name on the city's jazz club scene. During that time he met young trumpeter Dave Love at a function for North Texas State University. The two became friends and when Love started the Heads Up International label, Joe was signed to a record deal.   

This is his sixth CD for Heads Up, since recording and touring with labelmates began in 1992. 

Woke Up This Morning (vocal) is a real surprise.  It’s driven by a menacing bassline and the whole feel is bluesy, with its harmonica sounds and clean guitar.  The title is tongue in cheek – as is the vocal.  The song is a rework of the theme to the hit TV show “The Sopranos”. 

The funky, upbeat, piano-led melody on Keepin’ It Real is more recognisable as McBride’s style.  I wrote “smile-inducer” when I listened through first time – yes, I stand by that. 

You can almost hear the waves crashing on a faraway beach as Oi Gata (it means “hey sexy” in Portuguese) washes over you.  The piano is crystal clear and dances over the mellow but confident latin-tinged rhythm. 

The intro to Lakewood promises yet another classy arrangement.  And that’s what you get.  It’s smooth jazz radio-friendly and summer’s on its way.  If I were lucky enough to be in Washington DC for the Capital JazzFest in June, I’m sure I’d hear it everywhere.  Love this guy!  Love his band! 

Touches of old Crusaders music are everywhere on the gospel-flavoured His Name which features the sax of Wayne DeLano strongly.  Way back home – it’s rootsy stuff with just enough reminders that this is a 2002 production. 

Radio DJ’s get behind Never Let You Go please!  The cool scat intro opens a lush mid-tempo love song which sounds more like Al Jarreau as it builds.  Don’t underestimate the quality of McBride’s voice.  My head is nodding and my feet tapping.  This is dynamite! 

There’s a tropical feel when Morning In A Distant Land opens calmly but grandly.  Percussion and tasteful bamboo flute and steel pan samples are the bed for the laid-back, piano-led melody.  Oh, I would love to hear this live! 

Joe McBride unplugged!  Can’t Live Without You features Todd Parsnow’s acoustic guitar and the simplest of backing to cast the spotlight on the strong vocal – and lyric.  When the sax comes in, it’s like everything on this song – just enough. 

Romantics will love When You Smile with its unadorned soprano sax and piano duetting.  This is late-night, eyes closed music.  The sheer class of the arrangement keeps this from sounding clichéd. 

In case anyone should underestimate the rhythm section on this CD, concentrate on the tight drum and bass interplay on Kickin’ It.  It’s an airy mid-tempo number with a verse section that reminds me strangely of Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny”. 

Today’s top contemporary jazz keyboard players like Joe McBride and Brian Culbertson can take a simple melody like that on Gentle Rain and weave it into something absorbing.  Production values are very high on this song – it’s a great example of what I think Joe McBride’s music is all about. 

On the instrumental cut of Woke Up This Morning, a gritty baritone sax takes over the lead role and that sense of fun is still there.  It’s not typical of Joe McBride’s sound but it is typical of his ability to be just that bit different. 

It’s quite obvious that Joe McBride’s continued success – and particularly his recent warm reception in South Africa – has only served to increase his passion for his music and his development as an artist. 


Heads Up International HUCD 3067 – producer Martin Walters