Robert Starks and the Diamondtones Dance Band’s songs “21st Century Grandma” and “Text-MEE-Baby” are the latest musical releases from this longtime percussionist, performer, and songwriter. A number of factors distinguish both tracks, but they share solid productions values and a sturdy sense of song craft that makes them ideal for public consumption. Starks has made his mark on the modern music scene over the course of multiple decades as both a conga player and bandleader; he is confident leading the way and figures into these performance in a significant way. Pairing an instrumental track with one driven by a vocal is a smart touch. Starks gives us an opportunity to hear two distinct sides of his musical character and it invites newcomers to explore his music further.

“21st Century Grandma” has a strong central melody running through the track and the production polish applied to the song helps reach another level. Despite any indie status Starks enjoys now, his music sparkles with five star sonic treatment presenting it in the best possible light. The lack of vocals is never a distraction. There is enough melodic lift carrying listeners along to sustain your attention. Instrumentals are notoriously difficult sells, it is true, but “21st Century Grandma” has the necessary strengths to pull listeners in and retain their attention.


His conga playing is an important rhythmic factor in the success of “21st Century Grandma”. It doesn’t loom larger in the mix, Starks avoids any sort of musical heavy-handedness of that sort, but it provides a key percussive push that gives the track extra bounce. It gives the performance a light Caribbean flavor, but the song’s roots lay in R&B and their skill with the style is unmistakable.

His musical presence isn’t as pronounced during the second track “Text-MEE-Baby” and the vocal performance gives the cut an immediate different spin than “21st Century Grandma”.  The slinky groove Starks and his Diamondtones Dance Band establish with the song hinges around the bass playing, but deep in the pocket drumming helps nail down the track for listeners as well. It runs a little over four minutes long without ever taxing your attention.

The refrain is a particular high point and the vocals punctuate the moment with dramatic flair. “Text-MEE-Baby” is emphatic R&B with a playful edge and seems ideal for live performance. It has the same polish distinguishing the earlier “21st Century Grandma” while, thanks to its vocal, boasting more commercial appeal. Backing singers complement the top shelf lead vocals at scattered points during the performance. “Text-MEE-Text” isn’t a throwaway track in any sense. It is every bit as inspired as “21st Century Grandma” even if it has different focus.

These are winning single releases for Starks and poised to be powerful live cuts for future performances. His Diamondtones Dance Band plays together as a crack R&B fueled unit and create indelible grooves with each of the tracks that provokes audiences to move and connect with the music. It’s the latest musical success in Robert Starks’ long career and marks his 2019 in fine fashion.

Garth Thomas