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February/March 2016

Johnny Rawls
Tiger In a Cage
Catfood Records

Johnny Rawls

Johnny Rawls’ latest release, Tiger In a Cage (Catfood Records), finds the award-winning soul/blues man in fine form. A longtime veteran of the soul/blues circuit, Rawls has an uncanny knack of recreating the best qualities of the old-school Stax/Hi-era soul sounds while keeping things real and relevant enough to appeal to both the older and newer audiences. His new release continues that trend, featuring 12 tracks --- nine originals and three classic covers.

For his longtime fans, it’s always a good thing to see a new Johnny Rawls album in the racks, and he’s certainly firing on all cylinders with his original tunes, some co-written with Catfood label head/bass player Bob Trenchard, label mate Sandy Carroll, and guitarist Johnny McGhee.

The title track, penned by Rawls, Trenchard, and McGhee, opens the disc and tells the story of a 19-year-old black man’s struggle with drugs and prison. It’s a powerful song that recalls the ’70s socio-political songs of Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye.

There’s also the autobiographical “Born to the Blues” and a horn-drenched reconstruction of one of Rawls’ most popular tunes, “Red Cadillac.” The funky “Every Woman Needs a Working Man” is reminiscent of some of Bobby Womack’s ’70s hits, and the midtempo “Reckless Heart” is solid old-school, too.

“Keep It Loose” is a “ready for the weekend” track that will get the dancers on their feet. Rawls also teams up with Eden Brent on “Southern Honey,” a sassy country-flavored number, and the two sound great together. Two tracks, the ribald “Lucy” and the slow groover “I Would Be Nothing,” are new versions of tunes from Rawls’ days with JSP Records.

The three covers are noteworthy as well:.a fantastic version of Sam Cooke’s “Having A Party,” a swinging remake of Jackie Wilson’s “Your Love Is Lifting Me (Higher and Higher),” and a marvelous Stax-like cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden.”

As on Rawls’ previous Catfood releases, he’s backed by one of the best bands in the business, The Rays (McGhee – guitar, Trenchard – bass, Richy Puga – drums, Dan Ferguson – keyboards/accordion, Andy Roman – alto/tenor sax, Mike Middleton – trumpet, Robert Claiborne – trombone, Nick Flood – baritone sax). The Iveys (Arlen, Jessica, and Jillian) provide sweet backing vocals, and Jon Olazabel (percussion), Tommy Sheen (violin), and Norma Martinez (cello) also contribute.

If you’re already a fan of Johnny Rawls, I don’t have to tell you how good this album is --- you already know from experience. If you’re a newcomer to soul/blues, you need this disc in your collection. This is as good as modern soul/blues gets.

--- Graham Clarke
Read Graham's blog



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