Johnny Rawls definitely remembers the day, and, in Memphis Still Got Soul, he blends the famed Tennessee vibe with a gritty Chicago element that results in a chartworthy sound too much in danger of disappearing nowadays. The eponymous title track returns to the 60s in a beat that stands with Booker T, Otis, and Wilson, then its follower, a take on Blind, Crippled, and Crazy, ratchets up the heat. Rawls doesn't sing just from the heart but from his guts as well, a loin-deep vocal style that dances on tarmac in the middle of the night, howling for his baby, his music, and a lovelorn affair with that just-noted era which thankfully refuses to die…precisely because of guys like him.
Give You What You Need recaptures the Temptations, Chambers Brothers, Smokey Robinson, and ilk from a day when an unvarnishedly black sound kept the white rockers / bluesrockers informed on the limits of the prettifications within the studio and of over-production. Rawls' horn section likewise stays bright and sassy while he wails, howls, and sometimes croons of love and the frustrations of everyday life. This is the sort of haunt Duke Robillard is so fond of, and Johnny McGhee's guitar work in Burning Bridges shows precisely why. Interestingly, Rawls plays the six-string on half the cuts, McGhee (a Motown alumnus for Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross) on the other half, Rawls occupying the upper register, McGhee more the lower. It works well and keeps colorations variable, one a bird singing on the wire, the other roothoggin' in the soil.
Should you be aching for the halcyon days of yore before synthesizers and orchestral sweetening, not to mention a proliferation of tin-eared studio engineers, tended to clog up the airwaves, then Memphis Still Got Soul is the cure this reviewing doctor is writing scrip for. Take at least two listens before going to bed, and don't call me in the morning. I'll still be busy with my catty Blues Woman nurse, and a "Waaaaay Busy, Do Not Disturb, Fool!" sign will be hanging on the door. You can guess which room that door leads to.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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