New Jersey’s Eric Roberson has yet to make soul’s top flight. It seems to me that despite a longish career, “Erro” is still trying to establish an image and identity. His career began in the prime of neo-nu soul and his muscular delivery didn’t quite sit right with the ethereal nature of that soul shading; equally, he got involved in a lot of cross-genre collaborations that made it difficult to pin him down. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing but when it comes to selling units and establishing a name, punters do like to have some sort of handle on their artists (Why, for instance, are I-tunes playlists obsessed with genre?).

With ‘The Box’, it appears that at last Eric is going for something that he now realises he’s best at – proper, 21st century soul music; shifty and edgy, catchy and rhythmic, honest and intriguing and delivered with an old school passion and with its roots deep in the genre’s rich heritage. To help him deliver this “new Eric Roberson”, our man employs more live instrumentation than on his previous long players (including full horn and string sections) while he also calls on a string of guests to keep him on track.

One of those key collaborators is big-voiced soul man Dave Hollister who’s on hand for the album’s epic title cut – a percussive, bassy, energized jam. Los Angeles girl trio, King are welcome guests too. They help out on another of the album’s highlights – the lovely, finger-clicking good ‘Just Imagine’. Other guests include Tracey Lee, Pharoahe Monche and Eric’s dad, James who offers great insight on the father/son song ‘Do The Same For Me’.

Other goodies on the LP include ‘Haunted’ and the more romantic ‘Punch Drunk Love’ but dip in anywhere here and you’ll enjoy classic, committed 21st century soul music.

(BB) 4/5