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This twenty-song anthology delivers the definitive overview of Lou Rawls' vocal accomplishments before his late-1970s run with Gamble & Huff for Philly International records popped him into the mainstream.
Like so many other blues-influenced pop singers, Rawls begins right from The Source, the family church, through the opening "Motherless Child, from The Soul Stirring Gospel Sound of the Pilgrim Travelers Featuring Lou Rawls (1962). Lovingly rendered with the Les McCann piano trio for Rawls' first record as a leader (Stormy Monday, 1962), Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child almost sounds written for the deep, warm blanket of this singer's profoundly comforting voice. The unmistakable heat and light of gospel music also permeates "Something Stirring in My Soul, as well as Rawls' seven-minute workout of Sam Cooke's "Somebody Have Mercy, recorded with the famously funky Muscle Shoals (Studio) Fame Gang in 1970.
While the tunes are mostly solid, some just work better than others. You'd think that "Georgia On My Mind would provide a great vehicle for Rawls' slow-burning voice, but this version from Tobacco Road (1963) is simply a mess: the horn section (led by Curtis Amy's soprano sax), Richard "Groove Holmes' organ solo and Ray Crawford's guitar solo all bump into each other behind, then spill over to overwhelm Rawls' vocal out front.
So skip that and instead dig Rawls' blues from days and nights spent learning his soulful craft in the blues and jazz juke joints of Los Angeles and his Chicago hometown: his toe-tapping stroll through "Nobody But Me ; a lively arrangement of "So Hard to Laugh, So Easy to Cry crowned by Howard Roberts' sharp blues guitar; his soulful in-concert walk down the memoried lanes of "Tobacco Road, where Tommy Strode's piano saunters into barrelhouse boogie and blues; and the set-ending trilogy of Big Bill Broonzy's "Mean Old World with two more Holiday tunes, "Long Gone Blues and "Fine and Mellow, all three recorded with Amy's sextet, previously unreleased, loose-grooved, and swinging fine and mellow indeed.
Track Listing: Motherless Child; God Bless the Child; Nobody But Me; Blues for the Weepers; Goin' to
Chicago Blues; How Long, How Long Blues; Southside Blues/Tobacco Road; Something
Stirring in My Soul; Georgia on My Mind; So Hard to Laugh, So Easy to Cry; Old Folks;
Somebody Have Mercy; Why (Do I Love You So); Street of Dreams; I Wonder; Let's Burn Down
the Cornfield; One for My Baby, One More for the Road; Mean Old World; Long Gone Blues;
Fine and Mellow.
Personnel: The Pilgrim Travelers; The Muscle Shoals Fame Gang; Les McCann, Don Abney, Onzy
Matthews, Tommy Strode, Gerald Wiggins, Don Randi, Gildo Mahones, Phil Moore: piano;
Leroy Vinnegar, Jimmy Bond, Curtis Counce, Jim Crutcher, Bobby Haynes, Carol Kaye,
Henry Franklin: bass; Ron Jefferson, Alvin Stoler, Frank Butler, Leroy Henderson, Earl
Palmer, Mel Lee, Doug Sides: drums; Benny Carter: arrangements; Al Porcino, Bobby
Bryant, Bud Brisbois, Freddie Hill, Tony Terran, Dupree Bolton: trumpet; Barney Kessel,
Dennis Budmir, Rene Hall, Gene Edwards, Herb Ellis, Cal Green, Ray Crawford, Howard
Roberts, Walter Namuth: guitar; Lou Blackburn: trombone; Curtis Amy, Teddy Edwards, Jim
Horn, Wilbert Hemsley, Jackie Kelso, Herman Riley: saxophone; Richard "Groove" Holmes:
organ; King Errison: congas; Gary Coleman: tambourine; Stan Levey: percussion.
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.