Album Review: Otis Clay & Johnny Rawls, “Soul Brothers”


What do you have when mixing two R&B singer/songwriters: one a winner of The Living Blues Magazine “Southern Soul Album of the Year”, the other a right in the Blues Music Hall of Fame, and both with a history in gospel music? The answer is Johnny Rawls and Otis Clay joining to create their new album, Soul Brothers

Produced by Johnny Rawls, nominated four times for the W.C. Handy award, Soul Brothers is a mix of new R&B, gospel, and covering great soul classics of the 60’s and 70’s.  If you like the work of Tyrone Davis, Jimmy Ruffin, and Kay Kay Greenwade Soul Brothers is an album for you.

Soul Brothers opens covering the classic Dave Mason tune “Only You Know and I Know.” Rawls did an awesome job allowing musical expression from the band but kept the piece in its traditional soul form. The keyboard playing from Dan Ferguson is excellent, and adds a gospel feel to the piece.

“Voodoo Queen” has a Santana like intro as The Iveys give a rich sound with the backup singing “twenty feet away.” Many artists will not give backup singers prominence, but Rawls found the perfect trio. The Iveys fill in the album as they give a Mighty Clouds of Joy sound.

“What Becomes of The Brokenhearted,” a huge hit for Jimmy Ruffin, takes me back to 1966. All I need is a Mustang fastback. Ruffin’s song reached  #7 on the Billboard Hot 100, a flawless cover for Otis and Johnny. The break in the music toward the end gives the measures added emphasis.

“Road Dog” is a piece that has a musician story within the song. “Played in Memphis last night again,” “Drive all day to New Orleans, been on the road ever since I was eighteen.” “I guess that’s the price you pay for fame.” Anyone who thinks touring is glamorous, needs to guess again.  Music is the thing that keeps you going. Written by Bob Trenchard, Johnny Rawls, and Otis Clay, the song is a piece written to themselves.

“Living on Borrowed Time” a powerful piece by Bob Trenchard and Johnny Rawls, provides hard hitting lyrics with a “that was then, this is now” story.  The number includes a gospel lyric “Was lost and now found,” as many changed their lives because they realized they were “Living on Borrowed Time.” The song is matched by the number “Hallelujah Lord,” a personal piece as Rawls and Clay give credit to their source of success.  As I listen to this track, I thought the number should be the finale until I heard “Waiting for Dreams.” This tune pays homage to the poor, homeless and less fortunate.  Not long ago many people in poverty reduced themselves to eating dog food in order to stay alive, not America’s finest hour.  “Waiting for Dreams” is placed perfect within the album.

As I listen to this album many times, I could not help but think of acts like Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, and Sam Cooke. What is important within the Soul Brothers tracks, this genre had major influences on many singer/songwriters such as Johnny Rivers and Bob Seger. R&B music should continue to influence recording artists yet to come. It will always be a foundation for American music. Soul Brothers is a combination of the past, present, and future in one package. It is an album for every age and varied interest. This is Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls and they are Soul Brothers.



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