Two steps past the front door of The Dev to load in for a Friday, September 16 performance in Utica, Tad Robinson took a quick glance left and figured he and the band were about to be pigeon-holed into playing in the front window of the small bar. Twenty-five years ago, that would have been the case, with the likes of Danny Morris, Sonny Rhodes, Hubert Sumlin, and others having done so. The bar has expanded since then, added a raised stage, and co-owner Tim Schram has avoided having The Dev be pigeon-holed by featuring a wide variety of live music styles, with a commitment to primarily original music.
The Indianapolis based Robinson is an eight-time Blues Music Award nominee. His 2016 Soul Blues Album of the Year nomination was for Day Into Night, his fourth release on the renowned Severn Records label. A diverse crowd of blues fans, bar regulars, out of town businessmen, and neighborhood residents were all captivated by Robinson’s voice and the musicianship of him and his band. Backing Robinson were Paul Holdman on guitar, Jeff Chapin on drums, and Kevin Anker on keys, who has appeared on and co-produced Robinson’s recent recordings.
A smooth, stylish, distinctly different vocalist, Robinson impressed with both tone and control by knowing when to punch a phrase and when to lay back. He also exhibited notable harmonica skills, particularly on the chromatic harp. Holdman took the lead for a song of his own with a bit of a gospel touch, and Robinson often gave Anker plenty of room to showcase his abilities on the Hammond keyboard. Remarkable moments during the two set show included “Rained All Night” from Back in Style, Little Walter’s “Last Night,” and a crowd-pleasing rendition of the O.V. Wright southern soul classic, “A Nickel and a Nail.”