In the liner notes to Remembering O.V., Downbeat critic Frank-John Hadley observed that tribute albums are "made with good intentions but almost always wrecked on the shoals of nostalgic stasis" and, myself an inveterate lover of trib discs, have to admit he's nailed the wound too many such efforts suffer under. That isn't the case here, though, as Remembering is, again in Hadley's words, "full of fresh-sounding soul-blues". O.V. Wright was friend and mentor to Johnny Rawls, and Rawls spares nothing in re-living his inspiration's full vigor, covering the late Wright's best cuts, and especially one of my faves: Blind, Crippled, and Crazy.
Nickel and a Nail, however, is equally affecting. In listening, you descend into the soul of the singer and his burning love and travails, and the searingly mellifluous Eight Men, Four Women will haunt you long after the disc winds down, its angelic choir floating down from above. A killer three-man horn section pops up here and there, putting velvet, finery, and fire at the edges of each track it graces, while Dan Ferguson's keyboards lurk decorously throughout. Jim Gaines mixed the CD and achieved immaculate balance, deceptively smoothly layered, crafted in seductive atmospherics.
But it's Rawls who takes command each time out, and the story behind the extra mile is something that could only occur in the world of music: Johnny was driving himself and O.V. to a big show when Wright was seized with the heart attack that took his life right there in his own Cadillac. Rawls was gifted with the man's presence, benefitted immensely through O'V.'s personal powers, and was there by his side as his guiding light stepped through the veil. Very few of us in life will ever experience that full a measure of another's life and death. From that, the intensity of Rawls' performance in every track is relentless, climbing to the level of an Otis Redding, a Percy Sledge, or a Wilson Pickett. Not for nothing has he been nominated TEN times for a Blues Music Award. I've long commented that soul is not my native language, but with CDs like this, Danny Brooks No Easy Way Out, and Aretha's classic gospel Amazing Grace, I sure as hell am Berlitzing my way to getting there.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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