Lou Rawls ‘Black and Blue’ (American Jazz Classics) 4/5

Originally the second album that Lou Rawls recorded for Capitol records, this recording has been re-issued previously, but with a different pairing altogether. In 2006 Capitol records paired the album with ‘Tobacco Road’, the third album. This time round, American Jazz Records have opted for a series of singles cut between 1959 and 1962 and that amount to fifteen additional songs, when Rawls was still seeking to establish himself and before he signed for Capitol in 1962.The original big band album features the cream of West coast jazz musicians and these include a dream horn section of Curtis Amy, Teddy Edwards and Sonny Criss, with bassist Curtis Counce and hammond organist Richard ‘Groove’ Holmes. As for the orchestra, it was conducted with arrangements made by Ozzy Matthews. Chicago born Rawls interprets an essentially blues standards repertoire, but, as befitting Rawls, his voice was a seductive combination of gospel, blues and jazz and Rawls excelled in performing at the musical intersection of these inter-related genres. Among the numbers selected for the album, the stand out tracks are a rousing, ‘I’d rather drink muddy water’, a lively ‘Everyday I have the blues’, which while not as compelling as Joe Williams’ version, is nonetheless strong, and a real favourite of Rawls that he would also record in a live context, the immortal, ‘St. James infirmary’. As far as the 45s are concerned, in truth they do not add a great deal, but are worthwhile for long-term fans who wish to have the complete set of early singles.

While the voice was distinctive and rapidly maturing, the instrumental accompaniment is somewhat non-descript and positively MOR in parts. Lou Rawls’ ability to attract a wider audience was never in doubt, but it would be another four years before he scored a gold selling album with ‘Live!’ from 1966, and then a first major single in the number one R & B hit 45, ‘Love is a hurtin’ thing’, taken from the ‘Soulin’ album. Original line notes to the album are included with a new set of notes from Mal Caesar that provide a useful historical overview to Rawls’ early career.

Tim Stenhouse