Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Music Review: Jackie Johnson “Memphis Jewel”

Jackie Johnson


With a rangy voice trained in a choir loft, Jackie Johnson harks back to the classic soul sound of Stax, and Motown days. Backed by an all-star band and a multi Grammy winning producer, Jackie shines through on blues, soul, and jazzy-rockin’ numbers as well as some well placed ballads.

The album opens with It Should Have Been Me the great Gladys Knight and the Pips tune. Jackie lets her voice out to romp on this tune, and Andy Roman of The Rays (The great studio band that backed Best Soul Blues award winner for 2009, Johnny Rawls on his recent albums). Andy really wails. Also of note here is the sweet piano work of Dan Ferguson and Reba Russell on backing vocals.

Next up is one of my favorites, the funky, Nothing Last Forever, written by Catfood Records owner Bob Trenchard (also a member of The Rays). Jackie’s voice goes from low menacing rumble to a cynical middle register sneer. Begs you to get up off it and shake it with your baby. The backing vocal shine on this one too, Reba Russell, Candice Reyes and Monica Guiterrez , cook throughout.

Track 3 is a tune written by Jackie Johnson (and her husband, Van) with a modern R&B feel. Nice guitar work on this ballad.

Track 4 is an interesting one. Smokey Robinson’s signature tune, Tears Of A Clown. The tempo is slightly slower than Smokey’s classic, but the vocal style is obviously modeled on the Motown great. I would have like to see Jackie and the band cut loose on this one, but it’s still a real nice track. Later on, Jackie really exercises her voice hitting the sweet highs as well as that “get-out-of-my-kitchen” lows. She could have used that ability to reach on this gem. The next tune proves that range.

A duet with the great Johnny Rawls on Rawls’ tune, Love You Still one of the many highlights on the CD. The tune has a very jazzy sophistication, but remains rooted in the blues, or as Johnny calls it, “southern soul”, baby. Reminds me of Otis Redding and Carla Thomas doing Tell It Like It Is. I’d have loved to hear these two do a duet on Redding and Thomas’ Tramp. Gimme a kiss, cause I love you still. Great horn section, great backing vocals, great keys and guitar. Great tune.

Next, they pick up the pace with the New Orleans jazz of Bright Side which will bring back memories of the Neville Brothers. It’ll bounce you around the dance floor or make you snap your fingers or clap your hands.

Next Jackie pays tribute to the great Anita Baker with a rather pedestrian version of Will You Be Mine It’s a professional job, but feels like a throw away. Filler, or not, you’ll soon forget it with the next tune.

Betty Wrights deep fried southern soul classic, Clean Up Woman. This rockin’ classic just cooks. Real nice guitar work by Johnny McGhee, listen for the sweet fills, and funky feel. (more about this over looked guitar man I a minute). Jackie’s voice doesn’t quite cover the four octaves of Betty Wright’s (whose does?) but she gets close and it’s really not necessary for this infectious dance tune that hit the pop charts in 1972 and stayed near the top for 14 weeks. The arrangement really stays close to the original but they cut loose here probably more than anywhere else on the album and if you are going to stay true to an arrangement, you could pick worse ones to echo.

The album closes out with three tracks that show off Jackie’s gospel trained voice, and the bands stretches out to bring it all back home.

Jackie Johnson is no stranger to the music scene, having released two albums, 1998’s Let Love Abide and 2000’s Here I Am, both gospel. She’s also provided backing vocals for the likes of the Staple Singers, Barbara Carr, Shirley Brown and Lenny Kravitz and Rufus Thomas. She’s is also a regular at Porretta Soul Festival In Italy since 1995 and also In Norway, Spain, Switzerland, Belgium and the United Kingdom. She performed at the Royal Albert Hall In London, England for The Who Teenage Cancer Trust Show 2002. In addition, Jackie has opened for Bonnie Raitt at the Montreux Jazz Festival, and performed with Aaron Neville at the House of Blues in New Orleans. It’s a treat to hear her headline and take center stage since she has really got the pipes for it. Hopefully we’ll be hearing a lot more from her. This album is a welcome reprieve from the auto-tuned, synth driven soul and R&B that is so prevalent today.

The band is top drawer too, which befits an artist with her talent. The Rays have been Johnny Rawls, the godfather of deep south soul, backing band since 1999. The Rays sound is rooted in Americana, with funk, jazz, soul and blues, rock and gospel influences all mixed just right to make their sound stand out. The Rays are songwriter/bassist Bob Trenchard (the owner of Catfood Records) guitar player, Steve Lott, Dan Ferguson, keyboards and Andy Roman, saxophone. J. T. Paz and Richie Puga, who have both toured with The Rays, played drums on the CD. They are joined on this recording by special guests, guitarist Johnny McGhee, former LA Motown studio musician for Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and guitarist, arranger and leader for the group long time Funk mainstay, LTD. Lance Keltner from Rod Stewarts band also joins in on four tracks to add slide guitar.

This Memphis Jewel of a CD was produced and mixed by Grammy-winning producer Jim Gaines, (Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana, Luther Allison), recorded at Sonic Ranch Studios in Tornillo, Texas, and Leeway Music in Memphis; and mixed at Gaines’ Bessie Blue Studio in Stantonville, Tennessee.

The dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2011 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved


No comments:

Post a Comment