Soul music, which had been languishing for a while, is undergoing revival and renovation, not least because a lot of white musicians have been rediscovering that distinctive dimension of emotion and inflection, cleaving to it while reinvigorating a sometimes flagging repertoire. Now Jackie Johnson takes us directly back to the best of the Memphis / Motown era with a set of tracks that could very easily have been on hit anthologies in days of old. Especially when the band kicks into the intro to Nothing Lasts Forever, I get a chill up my spine, recalling the old sounds of Gladys Knight, Booker T., Smokey Robinson, and myriad masters of the craft.
Johnson couldn't have chosen a better producer than Jim Gaines (Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana, Luther Allison, etc.) 'cause the guy seems to have located a frozen trove of in-the-day moments and lit a propane fire beneath them, framing Johnson's alternatingly smooth and fiery voice in a bedrock of blues, soul, smooth rock, and piano lounge jazz. More, Lance Keltner and Johnny McGhee make all the right choices playing guitar, evoking moody echoes of the days when Marvin and Wilson roamed the Earth. Lay particular ear to McGhee's work in Do Ya—man, that's a thinking musician! The Supremes-y cover of Robinson's Tears of a Clown is an interesting nod to the Berry Gordy side of the house where soul and rock came together, but Johnson's true powers are in pure soul and blues, as she demonstrates in the song immediately following, Love You Still, a cut written by Johnny Rawls and on which he tosses in some throaty duet vocals.
Then dig the Johnny Otis by way of Duane Allman (courtesy of Keltner) Brightside, a jumping cut that bops around and at times reminds of Allan Toussaint. One of my favorite tracks, though, is Rain, a Randy Crawford-ish number with an oh-so-cool atmosphere that lights up on the refrains then glows with several great Keltner hooks. The vocal chorus comes in and surrounds Johnson, at which point the guitar parts the clouds as Jackie exults in a bluesy beatification. From beginning to end, Memphis Jewel is a weekend feast of times gone by, sidling in to remind all and sundry that some things are not meant to be forgotten.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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