Blue Lotus Recordings
This is the second release from Blue Lotus Recordings, a new label based in St. Louis. Multi-instrumentalist Paul Niehaus IV comes up with another strong release that he co-produced, along with drummer Kevin O’Connor, for singer Gene Jackson. Their first release, Roland Johnson’s Imagine This, showed that Niehaus had a deep understanding and appreciation for soul music. In Johnson and Jackson, he found two veteran singers who remained criminally undiscovered outside of their local market.
Listeners are treated to a wide-ranging program that samples the sounds that once rang out of Detroit, down to Memphis, and finally Muscle Shoals, AL. Jackson co-wrote the ten tracks with Niehaus, with O’Connor contributing on three songs. The opener, “That’s Why I Love You,” shows that Jackson can sing sweet & pretty one minute, then switch to a gritty tone without missing a beat. Niehaus plays bass, guitars, organ, Wurlitzer piano, and trumpet on the track plus adds backing vocal along with Sean Coray and Charisse “Swan” Sauls. Mark Huth plays tenor and alto saxophone, creating a wall of sound behind Jackson. The title track finds him reminiscing about events from a year that was full of civil rights protests and a presidential assassination. But Jackson’s focus was on a girl with a beautiful smile, the woman who is still his wife. Mark Hochberg plays the violin and viola to create a beguiling string arrangement.
“Love At First Sight” is an upbeat continuation of Jackson’s infatuation bolstered by a fine tenor solo from Huth. The Wurlitzer, played by Niehaus, is prominently featured on “Rag Doll,” with Jackson finding solace from a woman ignored by the rest of the world. The singer issues an impassioned plea for a mistreated woman’s love on “Ain’t No Way,” once again enveloped in strings with Marisa Sansone on viola, Anoy Hainze on cello, and Abbie Steiling on violin. The strings make another significant contribution on “Only God Can Help Us,” with Hainz and Steiling joined by Alison Derrick on viola for Jackson’s touching missive on dealing with the problems of the modern world.
The soothing sounds of “You’re Gonna Get Hurt” recall of the golden age of the Motown sound, then Niehaus uses the Wurlitzer to create an accordion-like sound that combines with Hochberg’s violin to take you straight to the Louisiana bayou on “Voodoo Girl”. There are plenty of pop elements on “Married At The Station” but Jackson’s compelling vocal performance carries the day. The closer, “Son,” is a heartfelt tribute to his son, a victim of drugs.
Full of old-school soul, this project is a keeper. Kudos to Niehaus for giving Gene Jackson the opportunity to release his first recording. He makes the most of it, using his vibrant voice and deliberate phrasing to inject love, hope, pain, and vulnerability into each track. Make a point to check this one out……..