It'll take a few minutes when pushing play on Ryan Shaw's debut to realize your iPod hasn't shuffled to an old Motown track in error. The Decatur-raised young soul man's opening salvo of "Do the 45" takes Junior Walker's "Shotgun" beat and explodes it into a groove so similar to the finger-popping '60s R&B vibe, you'll swear the singer was brought up on a steady diet of old-school soul played through a tinny transistor radio.
Yet the McNair High School graduate wasn't exposed to much besides gospel growing up in the Atlanta suburb. "I always wanted to sing; that's been my goal. Me and 9-to-5 never worked out," Shaw laughs on the phone from Seattle. While Atlanta's neo-soul scene was causing a stir with artists such as Donnie and India.Arie, Shaw was so focused on his church choir he didn't pay attention.
A move to New York City in 1998 as a cast member in Tyler Perry's I Know I've Been Changed, followed by an ongoing gig at the Big Apple's Motown Café, convinced him the city was the right place to pursue his singing goals. Shaw's powerful Michael Jackson/Sam Cooke/Howard Tate-influenced tenor voice and energetic stage presence fits like a sharkskin suit for the covers and originals that comprise his stunning first album, This Is Ryan Shaw.
Producer Jimmy Bralower started with standards and R&B obscurities Shaw was already performing in a doo-wop revival group, encouraged the singer to write fresh material and created a sound that neatly straddles both contemporary and retro styles. "They came up with something that has the spirit of the old with the sonics of the new," Shaw says.
The singer points out the natural cross-pollination between classic soul and religious music, which makes his leap into the secular marketplace seem so effortless. "It's very reminiscent of early contemporary gospel so it feels real natural. It was like a lateral move for me."
Ryan Shaw performs w/ Joss Stone. $27.50-$32.50. 8 p.m. Thurs., May 3. The Tabernacle, 152 Luckie St. 404-659-9022. www.ticketmaster.com.