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July 2012

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Johnny Rawls
Soul Survivor
Catfood Records

Johnny Rawls

Johnny Rawls keeps getting better and better with each release. His previous effort for Catfood Records, Memphis Still Got Soul, earned three Blues Music Awards nominations (Soul Blues Male Artist, Soul Blues Album, and Song of the Year for the title cut). As good as that disc was, I have to say that Soul Survivor is even better, with ten stunning tracks of classic soul blues.

Rawls has recorded for a lot of different labels, but seems to have found a home with Catfood Records. He and Catfood owner/bass player Bob Trenchard wrote or co-wrote nine of the ten tracks (fellow Catfood artist Sandy Carroll also contributed). The originals include the title track, a retrospective of sorts, with Rawls traveling the highways with his band, carrying on the deep soul tradition of artists like his mentor O. V. Wright, Johnny Taylor, and others.

“Hand Me Downs” has an original lyric and a smooth medium tempo, while “King of Hearts” picks up the tempo and adds Memphis-style horns. The other tracks include the ballads, “Long Way From Home” and “Drowning,” and the country-flavored “Yes.” “Don’t Need A Gun To Steal” is a topical song about politics and politicians, and there’s even an instrumental, “J.R.’s Groove,” that allows the band, members of the Rays, Catfood’s house band, to stretch out.

The lone cover is Rawls’ traditional O. V. Wright tune. This time around, it’s the classic, “Eight Men, Four Women.” Rawls, who led Wright’s band for most of the ’70s, has never attempted to sing like the legend, but he effectively captures the mood and intensity of the song in his own way.

Soul Survivor ranks with Johnny Rawls’ best work….maybe his best release yet. There’s not a false note anywhere to be found on this excellent soul blues album, one of the best I’ve heard in a while.

--- Graham Clarke


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