Stevie Ray's was packed on Monday, May 15, for a combination live fest and coming-out party for Robbie Bartlett's CD, One Girl's Opinion. It has been a long time coming, with the idea germinating three years ago and serious recording work starting over two years ago. Robbie has sung background vocals for Wayne Young and Kelly Richey on their recent releases, plus some lead vocals on Rusty Ends' CD. Now, at forty, it's Robbie's turn to step out.
This effort was a collaboration between a number of outstanding local musicians. They were all there Monday night, doing a brief set with Robbie, leaving here time so she could sign CDs and thank everyone. The other two divas of Louisville blues, Tanita Gaines and Sue O'Neil, helped with the back-up vocals as they did on several cuts. (Years ago, the three singers made a pact that if any of them did a recording, the other two would be on the record. )
Robbie's father, George Bartlett, as was proudly sitting in the back corner, quietly watching the celebration. He had just come out of the hospital that morning but was there nonetheless.
When I arrived around 9 p.m., the music was over, but I heard the set was loose and fun, with Robbie's powerful version of "At Last" - accompanied by Peter Rhee's tasteful violin - the high point.
The record's name came from Janet Leonard, who told Robbie "whenever you put a CD out, it should be one girl's opinion, because anything you sing, it will be coming from you no matter who wrote it." The CD opens with some chatter in a diner, which was actually recorded at a Cracker Barrel Restaurant, and it leads into "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down." Jeff Carpenter, who engineered and mixed the disc at Al Fresco's Place, brought that song, along with "Black Coffee in Bed," to Robbie. She was reluctant at first to try them, but Carpenter said "make it yours, don't worry about their style." Rusty Ends wrote the moody "Stalking." Robbie felt it was meant for her to sing, as was "Blue Shadows," which she sang on Ends' album.
Tim Krekel wrote "Love Can Be Fun" and accompanied Robbie on the cut. Krekel had heard Robbie sing for the first time at a benefit a year or so ago. When he heard that Robbie was working on her CD, he gave his CD to his bassist, Jim Baugher, who has played with both Krekel and Bartlett. Krekel said "You tell her she can sing any song on my CD," which made Robbie feel honored. Rusty Ends suggested the Frankie Miller tune "Be Good to Yourself," which Bartlett gave a different emotion..
Midway through One Girl's Opinion is the show stopping "At Last." When Peter Rhee and Bartlett were recording that song, he pushed her to a new level with his violin solo, to where she feels it can't get any better. Bartlett wanted her vocal to carry that song and keep the guitar and violin in the background. She and Rhee are planning to do some co-writing, using some of his classical training.
While this CD is not in the "true blues" genre, "Don't Do Me Wrong" is definitely a trip back to the hard-driving basics. Robbie got the idea for this version while washing dishes. All of a sudden, the whole song ran through her head from beginning to end. She wrote it down and sang it back in a flash of inspiration.
Rod Wurtele has some excellent piano solos on "I Can't Stop" and "Keep On Loving Me," plus a couple of Syl Johnson soul grooves. The Isley Brothers "Work To DO" is beautifully orchestrated with a haunting flute solo by Ed Humphries. "Be By Your Side" is another Bartlett original about an early romance when - believe it or not - Robbie was very shy and she went along with whatever he wanted so as to not upset the relationship.
The CD closes with an a capella stanza of "Amazing Grace," which recalls Bartlett's gospel roots, from when she was singing at age four with the Bartlett Family Singers. Robbie's mother Ella led the group, playing piano and singing. Robbie said she sang from the heart with a strong, raspy voice. Her brothers Rick, John and Keith all sang and played keyboards and drums. There was a lot of family singing in the kitchen in the house in the Montclair Villa neighborhood off Breckinridge Lane.
Belinda Lipscomb, the female singer with Midnight Star, lived across the street and Robbie used to listen to them practice in the basement when they were just starting out. Bartlett also sang Top 40 tunes during the late Seventies with a group called Absolute Energy. The group included Paul Evans, Gene Wickliffe and his brother Glen.
Bartlett attended Sue Empire college in Iowa on a track and basketball scholarship. She then majored in voice at the University of South Dakota. Finally, it was back to U of L, where she is only one semester away from getting g her degree.
Bartett's aspiration is to become a regional performer. She quit her day job as a front desk clerk at the Wilson Inn a year ago to concentrate on her music. She performed at the Annual Summer Ball in London with a local English blues band called Smokestack. She will return to England and possibly Italy in June 2001 for the same concert and three-work tour, this time traveling with her own band, which is currently in transition. Denny Inzer, who has been her music director and lead guitarist, is leaving to pursue other activities. Donny Pollard, guitarist with the Impressions, will take over, with Mark Richardson on bass and David Marasco playing drums. Bob Ramsey will occasionally be playing keyboards, generally for private gigs.
Bartlett sang at 23 weddings last year, where she gets a chance to do more jazz. Some corporate work is also beginning to open up, with gigs at Papa John's and Caesar's.
Bartlett also has been performing for elementary school children, which she enjoys. She was recently at Coleridge-Taylor, teaching the older kids about Motown, with which they were familiar by virtue of hearing from their parents, and working with the younger kids on a soulful version of "Itzy-Bitzy Spider."
Bartlett will be performing at the 2nd Annual Blues Fest in Hopkinsville on Saturday, June 24. Even with the international tours, festivals and corporate gigs, she promised to continue playing Louisville clubs, as that is where her fans first gave her a chance.
It's all a chance, but Bartlett's betting on herself to win.