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Johnny Rawls - Memphis Still Got Soul

Catfood Records

11 tracks - Total time: 40:53

Distinguished soul-bluesman Johnny Rawls—2010 Blues Music Award (BMA) winner for best soul-blues album, five-time BMA nominee, Critics’ Choice Southern Soul Album of the Year award winner, and long-time bandleader for O.V. Wright—shows on his release for 2011, Memphis Still Got Soul, that he still has it, soul still has in all over the place, and that good soul is just one step away from the blues. Especially validating this last claim is track 2, Rawls’ interpretation of O.V. Wright’s soul-blues classic from 1968, “Blind, Crippled and Crazy,” which is both bluesy and soulful. But that validation doesn’t stop there on Memphis Still Got Soul, which brings the soul-blues up-to-date while still hewing to the venerable essentials that established the genre and made it so noteworthy; this is done in ten original songs from Rawls and collaborator Dan Nichols, and also from Catfood Records’ head Bob Trenchard, bassist on six of the tracks here.

All but the opening track on the CD, the title song “Memphis Still Got Soul” are songs of women and love relationships, good and bad. But, as B.B. King observed on this, “Blues seems to talk about men and women. But it you listen, really listen, you know it’s about a lot more.” Good way to sum up just what Rawls is talking about here, because these songs are a lot more than love ditties. They’re about life, the whole of life and nothing but, same as what good blues and good soul always has been about.

Driving the sound here is a Stax-style horn section of sax and trumpet, a paradigm feature of modern soul, comprised here on two different bands recording the CD in two different studios. At Texas’ Sonic Ranch Studio, where “Memphis Still Got Soul” and “Blind, Crippled and Crazy’ were recorded, along with track 4, “Take You for a Ride;” track 6, “Burning Bridges;” track 8, “Flying Blind;” and Track 10, “Don’t Act So Innocent,” band personnel included Rawls on vocals along with several former members of the Rays, a band Rawls discovered and recorded—bassist Trenchard, drummer Richie Puga; Dan Ferguson, keyboards; and Andy Roman, sax; along with Mike Middleton, trumpet, and Jessica and Jillian Ivey, background vocals. Special guest on this session was Johnny McGhee, former Motown studio guitarist in Los Angeles.

The second recording session was at Helena, Montana’s Soul Tree Recording, with Johnny Rawls on both vocals and guitar, with Dan Nichols, drums; John Moore, piano and bass; Doug Skoogs, organ; Michael Kakuk, sax; Chris Heisel and Mark Hutchinson, trumpets; and Destini Rawls, background vocals. They recorded track 3, “Give You What You Need;” track 5, the plaintive ballad “Stop the Rain;” track 7, Rawls’ autobiographical “My Guitar;” and the ending track, “Love Stuff.” Both “My Guitar” and “Love Stuff” emphasize Johnny Rawls’ guitar playing, lead and solo on “My Guitar,” and solid, tune-carrying rhythm on “Love Stuff” “Burning Bridges” is built around McGhee’s rocking blues guitar with the soulful horn section coming in for the chorus. Several different takes on male-female relationships are given here, from the eagerly lecherous to the poignantly rueful. “Blues Woman” is a Little Milton-style celebration of down-home African American ethnicity expressed through his appreciative desire for a down-home woman. While Johnny Rawls is thoroughly his own bluesman throughout, the listener familiar with modern soul will hear appreciative echoes of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Tyrone Davis and Little Milton. Memphis Still Got Soul shows that good soul has still got it, and not just in Memphis.

Reviewer George "Blues Fin Tuna" Fish hails from Indianapolis, Indiana, home of blues legends Yank Rachell and Leroy Carr. He has written a regular music column for several years. He wrote the liner notes for Yank Rachell’s Delmark album, Chicago Style. He has been a blues and pop music contributor for the left-wing press as well, and has appeared in Against the Current and Socialism and Democracy.

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