Where Have All the Soul Men Gone?
Third Street Cigar - No #
This is soul man Johnny Rawls third outing for Ohio-based Third Street Cigar following closely on the heels of 2019's I Miss Otis Clay and 2018's I'm Still Around It was recorded at Heyman Studios in Copenhagen (with overdubs added at Bigfoot Studios in Waterville, Ohio) in the course of Rawls' month-long European tour in early 2020 that also yielded Johnny Rawls Live in Europe on the Dutch CRS imprint. Like the live set, Rawis is backed here by the Ozdemirs, a German trio consisting of Erkan Ozdemir on bass and his sons Kenan and Levent on guitar and drums, respectively. Italian keyboardist Alberto Marsico was present on both dates, and the Ohio overdubs added veteran Toledo guitarist Larry Gold on two tracks, along with a horn section comprised of Travis Geiman on trombone and Mike Williams on alto sax on nine, the lone exception being Calling on Jesus, the gospel rave-up that closes the proceedings.
From the first notes of the title track, it is evident that Rawls' European bandmates know what they're doing, laying down an easy-roiling groove as Rawls name checks such predecessors as Little Willie John Bobby Bland BB King, Otis Redding, Percy Sledge, and, of course, his close friend Otis Clay and longtime employer, O.V. Wright. Unlike its live companion, which includes covers of Wright, Tyrone Davis, and Clarence Carter, among others, the ten tracks on offer here are all Rawls originals. Medium tempos prevail, propelled by Rawls' mastery of rhythm guitar and cushioned by Marsico's organ and the horn section, the latter's blend of trombone and alto sax resulting in a higher and lighter sound than the more common pairing of trumpet and tenor. Lyrically, there's nary a cheating woman to be found amidst such affirming songs as Bottom to the Top, Can't Leave It Alone and Love, Love, Love, with its bluesy guitar intro. Elsewhere, Rawls speaks the truth about Money and Time ("Someone tell me where the years have gone. how time slips away / All I have is some photographs of memories of yesterday'), bemoans "the strange situation that we're living in today," on Town Too Small and reassures us that he's going to keep on playing his guitar and singing his songs until he drops on Keep on Doing My Thing.
It is apparent from the titles of this and his other recent releases that Rawls has become keenly aware of his position as an elder statesman on today's southern soul scene. As such, we should cherish the ongoing opportunity to relish the continuing presence of Rawls and other veteran soul men such as William Bell and Don Bryant. Rawis himself has never released a bad album among the 20 or so in his catalog, and this one is no exception.