NPR logo Review: Cool Uncle, 'Cool Uncle'

Review: Cool Uncle, 'Cool Uncle'

Note: NPR's audio for First Listens comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

Cover art for Cool Uncle. Courtesy of the artist. hide caption

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Courtesy of the artist.

Cover art for Cool Uncle.

Courtesy of the artist.

Never underestimate the power of social media. It can be used to inform, entertain, mobilize the masses and scandalize public figures. Yet it also potential to bring people from different walks of life together. Cool Uncle, the unlikely pairing of veteran smooth pop and soul singer-songwriter Bobby Caldwell and the contemporary hit-making producer Jack Splash is an excellent example of social media power made good.

Soon after Splash, a Grammy winner for his work with Cee-Lo and Jennifer Hudson, and producer to Alicia Keys and Kendrick Lamar, mentioned in a number of interviews that collaborating with Caldwell was among his professional dreams, he received a curious Facebook message—from a dog. The message was actually from Caldwell's wife, Mary, sent through an account the family had set up for their pet. She'd caught wind of the producer's affinity for her husband's music and wanted to see if she could make Splash's dream a reality. Caldwell and Splash met, hit it off, and began working together. The result of this cross-generational collaboration is a 15-track album that blends the blue-eyed soul that made the crooner of "What You Won't Do For Love" famous, with Splash's eclectic musical palette.

For the most part, Cool Uncle doesn't seek to make Caldwell's silky tone and signature phrasing style conform to the standards of today's R&B. Instead, it brings marquee guests like Jessie Ware ("Break Away") and Cee-Lo ("Mercy") into his zone, creating music that walks the line between contemporary sonic creation and anachronistic throwback. The genre borders between smooth jazz, R&B and pop get blurred as Caldwell revisits the familiar Quiet Storm topics of romantic entanglement and heartbreak. You want highlights? There's "Breaking Up," a lilting electric piano and tight percussion groove that provides a great backdrop for Caldwell's passionate duet with Deniece Williams (plus, a well-executed, emotional guest verse from rapper Eric Biddines). Or there's "Game Over," a panoramic Kaleidoscopic bit of easy-listening from the Chuck Mangione school, on which Mayer Hawthorne joins Caldwell to serenade the love that has taken them over (and includes the smoothest pop invocation of Rio this side of Peter Allen).

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Too often, when senior family members wind up a part of our social networks, things can get awkward. But there are times when unexpected intergenerational communication can lead to some inspired creations. Such is definitely the case of the Caldwell and Splash's union. Cool Uncle indeed.

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