Lou Rawls ‘The Rarest Lou Rawls: In the Beginning 1959-1962’ 2CD (Jasmine) 4/5

Born in Chicago in 1935, Lou Rawls cut across black music boundaries and was equally adept at jazz, rhythm and blues, gospel and smooth soul genres. This latest re-issue captures him early on in his career with some of the earliest, and thus rarest, 45s, paired with an EP of the ‘Black and Blue’ session on Capitol from 1962 and also including from the same year a gospel album Rawls recorded with the Pilgrim Travellers. Of interest with the pre-Capitol 45s are producers of the calibre of Herb Alpert and Lou Adler. However, fans of rhythm and blues are more likely to warm to the production of H.B. Barnum for whom Rawls recorded, ‘That lucky old sun’, and ‘Above my head’. As a lovely addition, Rawls the background singer to the late, great Sam Cooke is included as a fascinating bonus on a 1962 RCA offering, ‘Bing it on home to me’.

Capitol released EPs to cater for the then burgeoning jukebox market that was key to attracting attention in the inner city areas and of these, ‘Everyday I have the blues’, ‘Kansas City’ and the boogie-woogie influenced, ‘Roll ’em Pete’, impress with big band accompaniment from musicians of the calibre of a young Joe Sample on piano, Richard ‘Groove’ Holmes’ on Hammond organ, and Clifford Scott on saxophone.

CD2 focuses squarely on the two complete Capitol albums, with ‘Stormy Monday’, being regularly re-issued, but for anyone unaware, a definitive slice of soul-jazz with Les McCann Rawls’ co-companion throughout. Some of these readings have become the standard and blues and jazz never criss-crossed as effectively as here. From a heartwarming, ‘God bless the child’, and, ‘Willow weep for me’, to, ‘Ain’t nobody’s biz-ness if I do’, these interpretations have stood the test of time and then some. A rousing rendition of, ‘I’d’ rather drink muddy water’, rounds off a superb album. Last, but by no means least, Lou Rawls in gospel mode on, ‘The soul stirring gospel sounds of’, and here he excels on, ‘Wade in the water’, a composition that Ramsey Lewis would make a hit instrumental out of for Chess (via Cadet), ‘Motherless child’, and ‘Sweet chariot’.

The two-CD set covers the period just before Lou Rawls hit the big time in the United States, with the 1966 album, ‘Lou Rawls live’, that went to number four in the pop charts. If you do not already possess any of the aforementioned recordings, this re-issue is more than worth the purchasing price.

Tim Stenhouse