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CD REVIEW -- Otis Clay & Johnny Rawls
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Soul Brothers
Catfood Records

Otis Clay & Johnny Rawls Soul Bros CD

By James Porter

          If you've been fortunate enough to have seen Otis Clay perform, you'll know that if he sees an old soul-survivor friend in the audience (like, say, Cicero Blake), he'll bring them up on stage to trade verses for a song or two. His latest album is a collaboration with singer/guitarist/producer Johnny Rawls, who backed up the legendary O.V. Wright before stepping out on his own. In many ways, this album is reminiscent of Clay's tradeoffs with other singers at the end of the night. Only thing is, instead of a casual 12-bar blues, the set list now includes, among other tunes, remakes of chestnuts like "What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted" (the Motown standard made famous by Jimmy Ruffin), "Turn Back The Hands Of Time" (a huge crossover smash for Otis’ dear friend Tyrone Davis), and even Dave Mason's "Only You Know & I Know."  Rawls, Clay and executive producer Bob Trenchard contributed original tunes like “Road Dog,” “Hallelujah Lord,” and “Living On Borrowed Time” which fit right into the mix of soul, gospel and rockin’ R&B on this CD.

And both men are in fine voice. Unlike the standard Sam & Dave way of handling soul duets, Clay and Rawls don't harmonize; instead, they sing a verse here and there, occasionally commenting to the other man. Their voices are readily distinct, with Rawls' smoother tones offsetting Clay's gravel. The chemistry is clearly right there in the music.

          Only one minor complaint: the band is a little too slick, with a laid-back feel you'd expect from a Robert Cray album rather than the intensity you usually get from Clay or Rawls. Jon Olazabal is credited with percussion, and having his congas in the mix alongside Richy Puga's drums makes it sound smoother than expected. Apart from that, both singers sound totally at ease doing their do.

Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls have remained true to their vision of rootsy soul music through the decades, and teaming them up was a wise decision. The title of the CD is on point -- as overused as the phrase “soul brother” is -- it definitely applies here.


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