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Jackie Johnson - Memphis Jewel

Catfood Records

11 Tracks, 42:00

Somehow in the last ten years, or maybe a few more, original style Rhythm & Blues music has become covered by the umbrella of simply Blues. What passes for today’s R&B is often unimaginative, soulless, monotone, and auto-tuned pabulum spoon fed to the masses by record companies and pay-to-play radio monopolies. The modern blues scene is teeming with classic-style Soul and R&B acts like Johnny Rawls, Otis Clay, Curtis Salgado, Bettye Lavette and many more. Jackie Johnson is a seasoned veteran who brings her brand of traditional soul to the big tent of blues. Johnson has returned to recording with Memphis Jewel on Catfood Records, a sublime mixture of Gospel, R&B and Memphis soul.

Memphis soul is more than just a description of Memphis Jewel; it’s practically a mission statement, with every track oozing the city’s hot, buttery essence. Even Smokey Robinson’s emblematic Detroit classic “Tears Of A Clown” is given the Stax treatment with funky guitars, fat bass lines, and pulsating horns. Fellow Catfood Records recording artist Johnny Rawls duets with Jackie on his song “Love You Still.” Their voices mesh like ribs and rub on this smoky R&B workout. The Memphis Jewel rolls down the Big Muddy to New Orleans on “Brightside.” This one shuffles along on the second line beat with a slide guitar wailing away as Johnson sings about juggling men. The infectious beat of “Brightside” is sure to get audiences moving at the live shows.

Memphis Jewel was produced by Jim Gaines, who has worked with Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Luther Allison and numerous others. The studio band features several members of The Rays – the band that backed up Johnny Rawls on his last few records. The band is tight and feels comfortable with all the permutations of blues and R&B found on Memphis Jewel. Bob Trenchard, owner of Catfood Records and a member of The Rays, wrote “Nothing Lasts Forever,” a funky organ-fueled, brass-tinged smoldering jam. The back-up singers add extra dimension which, together with its tight arrangement and insistent beat, makes this one a highlight of the album.

Jackie Johnson has been singing since childhood, starting off in the church choir. She has sung back-up for Rufus Thomas, the Staple Singers, Barbara Carr, Lenny Kravitz, and Shirley Brown. Jackie recorded some gospel albums, Let Love Abide (1998) and Here I Am (2000), and on Memphis Jewel, she returns to her church choir roots with “Wash Your Hands” and “Keep The Faith.” The latter serves as the album closer and delivers a hopeful message amid choir vocals, rippling piano lines, swirling organ, and guitar arpeggios that propel the music toward the heavens.

Memphis Jewel is not really a blues album. It is however, a bluesy roots record, drawing influences from God’s house much more so than the Devil’s juke joints. Fans of Stax classic records and Motown will find more to their liking here than die hard Howlin’ Wolf fans will but that’s not a bad thing. Like the best blues, every note Jackie Johnson sings is filled with passion and is imbued with real life experiences that connect with the listeners and will draw in even the most cynical listeners.

Reviewer Jim Kanavy is the greatest guitar player in his house. He has been reviewing albums in his head for 30 years and in print since 2008, and is deeply committed to keeping the blues alive and thriving. For more information visit

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