Robert Minott has released an impressive string of singles in recent years and his most recent, “You Are”, is arguably his finest moment yet. It’s jaw-dropping in modern music to find performers still going strong over two decades into a career, success is harder to sustain than ever before, but it’s thirty years since Robert Minott released his first album. He’s worked constantly since then, primarily excelling as a live act, but Minott packs quite a punch in a studio setting as well. “You Are” illustrates that beyond any doubt.

I’m quite taken with the musical backing. Minott keeps things simple. There’s lightly distorted guitar present throughout the song along with other instruments such as organ and other keyboards. It does have a minimalist air, as the preceding sentences suggest, but never feels starved for additional musical input. It has immediacy. He orchestrates these elements in a way that engages listeners out of the gate. There’s precious little preamble.

Anyone hearing his voice for the first time will zero in. He has presence with a single line, an increasingly rare gift in the modern music world, and it’s unmistakable from other performers. He’s thoroughly steeped in a tradition, reggae, without ever clearly wearing any influences on his sleeve. In a sense, he’s one of the purest practitioners of the music – he embodies its traditions in every line without ever directly imitating a single contemporary or predecessor.

It isn’t a reggae song, however. He deserves considerable credit for branching out from his wheelhouse, it is a gamble, but even more credit for making it work. He’s convincing working within the R&B style and there’s no jarring juxtaposition with the song’s quasi-gospel leanings. It all comes together in a greater whole and there are few, if any, listeners who will dismiss this new single. Even those who dislike it will be forced to concede its potential appeal and skill.

He has a message with the song. It isn’t stumping for any cause beyond the essential human cause of love. It isn’t a cornball view, however. Minott sees love not in Hollywood movie terms but as a key experience in human life that we should nurture and protect rather than trivialize. He doesn’t put that message in strident terms. He uses plain conversational language, somewhat fragmented, and writes the words in such a way they serve the song rather than standing out.

It’s a powerful song. Stripping the track down to its necessary elements gives “You Are” dramatic oomph all its own despite working within an established tradition. His foray away from his comfort zone is a chance all too few artists dare take, but it’s close enough that longtime listeners will enjoy the work. It’s definitely a track capable of earning Minott many new fans. They’ll be coming to him, however, on his terms. Minott can look back over a three decade career and take satisfaction in, if nothing else, that he’s “made it” doing things his way rather than catering to other’s whims.

Timothy Ball

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