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The Soul Brothers – Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls – bring back the '60s Memphis sounds with authenticity and heart.

Music Review: Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls – ‘Soul Brothers’

Soul Brothers Otis Clay Johnny RawlsI remember AM DJs of the ’60s announcing new records by the likes of Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, and Otis Redding as good ole “sock ‘n’ soul.” I always liked that short but descriptive term. It applied to just about all of the Stax/Volt records along with singles from similar labels of the time. It applies just as perfectly now to Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls‘ new Soul Brothers.

The genesis for this project began in 2013 when Otis Clay joined Johnny Rawls as a special guest on three tracks of Rawls’s multi-Blues-Music-Award-nominated CD, Remembering O.V., a tribute to Rawls’s mentor, O.V. Wright. Beyond their mutual respect for Wright, the two singers discovered they had much in common. After all, Clay and Rawls have been traveling in the same circles for decades and have over 20 Blues Music Awards nominations between them. So it seemed a natural progression for the two to do a full album together.

But while the “Soul Brothers” name is intended to refer to Clay and Rawls, their backup band, the Rays, are equally worthy of that label. It includes Richy Puga (drums), Bob Trenchard (bass), Johnny McGhee (guitar), and Dan Ferguson (keyboards). The brass section is also absolutely indispensable, adding the power and punch to every track. The horns are blown by Andy Roman (sax), Mike Middleton (trumpet), Robert Claiborne (trombone), and Nick Flood (sax). The Iveys – Arlen, Jessica and Jillian – add the background vocals. Joining in the sessions is Southern California percussionist Jon Olazabal, notable for the drums on the opening number, Dave Mason’s “Only You Know and I Know.”

Mason’s hit, made famous by Delaney and Bonnie in 1970, is one of three covers on Soul Brothers. The others are Tyrone Davis’s 1970 “Turn Back the Hands of Time” and the album’s standout track, a magical reworking of Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted.” The rest of the 10 songs were written by Rawls, Clay, Trenchard, and others including Kay Kay Greenwade who penned the closer, “Waiting for Dreams.”

While Clay and Rawls are best known as blues singers, the set is pure “sock ‘n soul” throughout. On each number, the two trade lead vocals on the verses and join together on the upbeat refrains. They have fun with old blues subjects like “Voodoo Queen” and get down and Gospel on “Hallelujah Lord.” Songs like “Turn Back the Hands of Time,” “Living on Borrowed Time,” and “Road Dog” clearly reflect how Clay and Rawls feel about growing older with lots of touring miles behind them and years of experience to look back on. But despite the singers’ respective ages (Clay is 72, Rawls is 63), Soul Brothers has a driving energy from start to finish that both invigorates the leaders and players and revs up the engines of any listener.

Simply stated, if you liked the music Clay and Rawls are reviving, Soul Brothers is a must. Even if you weren’t around when Sam and Dave were singing about being a “Soul Man,” the Soul Brothers will make a soul man – or woman – out of you. It’s the “rill thing.”

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