Johnny Rawls | Buddy Guy’s Legends | Blues, Gospel, and R&B | Chicago Reader

Johnny Rawls Soundboard

When: Thu., Aug. 4, 9:30 p.m. 2011

Johnny Rawls toured the chitlin' circuit for years with deep-soul legends like O.V. Wright (for whom he also worked as musical director) and Little Johnny Taylor, but most of his own work has incorporated sprightly pop and mainstream rock 'n' roll, alongside occasional hints of churchy grit and old-school fervor. On the recent Memphis Still Got Soul (Catfood), though, he seems to be digging deep into his down-home roots. Rawls's voice is huskier than ever (that may simply be because he turns 60 this year), and the production features fatback horns and funk-driven rhythms, with less lead-guitar artistry than usual. He covers Wright's "Blind, Crippled, and Crazy" with loving dedication, and he lays himself bare on the ravaged-­sounding ballad "Stop the Rain." Even when he adds dollops of pop ebullience ("Flying Blind," "Give What You Need"), the music retains its Memphis soul flavor, with crisp horn charts and organ lines that sound borrowed from Booker T. Jones's lick book. "Burning Bridges" crosses the line from deep soul into soul-blues rock, and a few other tracks call to mind contemporary southern soul-blues with lyrics full of jaunty irony and sexual high jinks. But all in all, the album is Rawls's deepest yet, and if he re-­creates its feel onstage, it should be a special treat for soul-starved listeners whose closest contact with the "real thing" has been live Otis Redding recordings from the 60s. —David Whiteis

Price: $10

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