Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls ‘Soul Brothers’ (Catfood) 4/5

otis-clay-johnny-rawlsSouthern American soul-blues has a long-standing reputation and has in recent years become better known outside the United States among soul aficionados. Think of singers of the calibre of Bobby Bland, Little Milton, Little Johnny Taylor and O.V. Wright to name but a few and you have some idea of the quality sound of the voices that abound. Veteran singers Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls have paired up on this new recording for a highly entertaining trip down memory lane. The former is best remembered for his early-mid 1970s recordings for the Hi label while Rawls came to prominence as musical director of O.V. Wright as well as being a guitarist. The two have in fact already collaborated on ‘Remembering O.V.’ which was awarded ‘Southern soul album of the year’ in 2013. The new album charts a similar path with tight arrangements and vocal harmonies to the fore. This is the real deal and the soul-blues on offer consequently has a decidedly gritty feel to it. A reworking of the Tyrone Davis mid-1970s classic ‘Turning back the hands of time’ works a treat and the full brass section plus the use of vibes ensures this is a winner of a tune. On the co-written ‘Living on borrowed time’, Clay’s rasping vocals are complemented by some melodic guitar licks and this is the catchiest of mid-tempo songs. Among the most compelling reprises is a reworking of the Jimmy Ruffin tune becomes of the broken hearted’ and Otis Clay delivers a fine interpretation that adds some tasty southern topping on this occasion. Tales from New Orleans form the inspiration for ‘Voodoo Queen’ that is an intricate blues with punchy horns and another stunning delivery from Clay. In a funkier vein, the uptempo ‘Mama didn’t raise no fool’ is noteworthy for the use of clipped rhythm guitar à la James Brown and a heavy bassline. Quality music from start to finish.

Tim Stenhouse