Johnny Rawls initially emerged as part of Rawls & Luckett who first had an album over a quarter-century ago for Rooster blues. A Mississippi native, Rawls previously had been O.V. Wight’s band director and the band backed other soul and blues acts like Little Johnny Taylor after the legendary Wright passed away. Subsequently Rawls emerged as a solo act with several albums on JSP (as well as produced several albums for that label) before hooking up with Catfood Records.
Rawls has a new release on Catfood, Memphis Still Got Soul, that should continue to embellish his reputation as a strong soul and blues performer. Included are eleven songs, ten of which are originals from Rawls and/or co-producer Bob Trenchard and from two sessions. One session of from Texas and other from Montana (on which Johnny plays guitar), but both with live musicians. Trenchard and Rawls contributed the title track with its echoes of Elvis leaving the building, but Beale Street is still happening even if we lost some of the great ones and Memphis still has soul. The band captures the right groove, Andy Roman takes a strong tenor sax solo and Rawls nails the vocal.
The title track is followed up by a cover of the O.V. Wright classic Blind, Crippled and Crazy, whose lyric Rawls tears into with solid backing on a solid cover. Get What You Need, is a groover that should get folk on the dance floor while Take You For a Ride, is a driving piece of stone southern soul as Johnny tells his lady they will dance slow in the dark. Stop the Rain is a soulful lament as he pleads to stop the rain that is falling from his eyes, while Johnny McGhee’s guitar helps propel the funky Burning Bridges, about a gentleman one can’t trust and Mr. Guitar, where Johnny talks about not being a big superstar who has never won a Handy or a Grammy but all he needs is his guitar, with which he adds the fills here and takes the track out with a fade. Blues Woman, has a medium tempo rock-steady rhythm where Johnny strongly sings about wanting a woman he can relate to, not one that is into fancy champagne.
Those familiar with Rawls will not be disappointed. There are strong soulful songs that are terrifically played. The emphasis is on Rawls vocals, so those expecting lots of lengthy guitar solos will be disappointed. This is a solid follow-up to his other recent recordings and I would expect it to be as warmly received on the Southern soul circuit as well as blues fans who enjoy strong contemporary soul recordings.
I received a review copy from a publicist handling this release.