An old school rhythm and blue vocalist that has long been regarded as a local treasure in Memphis, Jackie Johnson may be little known in North America but has established herself in Europe on visits there. She sings on Huey Lewis' recent Soulsville and toured with him. Years ago backed up Shirley Brown and Barbara Carr. Church rooted, she has a new recording Memphis Jewel on Catfood Record that is produced by Jim Gaines with a band that includes Catfish Records owner, Bob Trenchard on bass and other members of The Rays.
Included are covers of songs such as the Gladys Knight classic, It Should Have Been Me, and Smokey Robinson's classic The Tears of a Clown that shows how expressive a vocalist she is. Her sound suggests New Orleans Queen Irma Thomas, and she is a similarly able to lay into a lyric as well as subtly deliver it. The band gets into a hot second line groove on Abner Burnett's Brightside, with hot Lance Keltner slide guitar that suggests Little Feat. Here, her vocal that soars over the backing with lively piano, and the afore-mentioned slide guitar.
Will You Be Mine, penned with her husband is a lovely soulful ballad and is followed by a solid cover of Betty Wrights big hit Clean Up Woman. It is another high point along with Love You Still, a bluesy duet with Johnny Rawls. Trenchard's Wash Your Hands, provides a contrasting mood to the duet with Rawls, as she sings about whether she can redeem herself from an affair she had. Wonderfully sung, with full backing and a marvelous arrangement, this track is typical of this release with solid material, strong backing and a singer who is thoughtful yet so soulful. Jackie Johnson is indeed a Memphis Jewel.
I received my review copy from a publicist for the release.