Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Johnny Rawls Remembers O.V. Wright

It has been a number of years since the legendary O.V. Wright passed on. Johnny Rawls was Wright’s music director and guitarist in the 1970s and kept the band together after his mentor passed in 1980 for over a decade. Since establishing his own career as a performer and a producer, Rawls has emerged as one of the few acts able to bridge the southern soul blues and traditional blues worlds with his mix of soulful originals and has on occasion recorded some of Wight’s classic deep soul classics. 

It was the urging of Bill Wax, then the blues program director at XM-Sirius Satellite Radio, that has led to a tribute album, Remembering O.V. on Catfood Records with his interpretations of some of the core of Wright’s recorded legacy. On this, Rawls is backed by The Rays, the Texas horn-filled R&B band led by Bob Trenchard that has been part of Rawls most recent recordings. As a bonus, three of these selections also have the presence of another Wright colleague and one of the great deep soul singers of the past couple decades, Otis Clay.

While heavily influenced by Wright, Rawls’ performances of these songs avoid being copies. Rawls and Clay both have similar church roots to Wright, but each has developed their own personal and identifiable approach. This is manifested in the passionate interpretations of Wright classics as Into Something (I Can't Shake Loose), Precious Precious, Blind, Crippled, Crazy, Nickel and A Nail, Eight Men, Four Women, and Ace of Spades. Rawls sings strongly and authority on these Wright classics. He exhibits perhaps a bit more heat in his vocals than he usually exhibits and the backing provided by The Rays is strong throughout. A backing vocal trio, The Iveys also is effectively employed. Clay makes his presence felt on the three songs he is heard on.

The album closes with a Rawls’ original Blaze of Glory in which Rawls and Clay both sing about Wright’s continuing influence and while he is gone they are going to continue in his path until they too are gone. Remembering O.V. is a first-rate salute to one of the great soul music icons that stands on its own. Incidentally, Poor Boy is the fourth track while Nickel and A Nail is the fifth track. The album cover transposes their order.

I received my review copy from the record company or a publicist. Here is a video of Johnny singing O.V. Wright's "You're Gonna Make Me Cry," which is not performed on this CD.

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