Johnny Rawls – I’m Still Around | Album Review

Johnny Rawls – I’m Still Around

Third Street Cigar Records TSC 105

10 songs – 38 minutes

Johnny Rawls proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that both he and old-school soul blues are still as warm, vital and entertaining as they ever have been with this release. He claims it’s his finest work ever in an award-winning career that’s spanned 50 years and included almost as many recordings.

His first release on the Third Street Cigar imprint, one listen will prove it! It’s a Memphis-style pleaser from the jump – a surefire bet to draw major attention when next season’s award nominations come around.

A native of southern Mississippi – he grew up in Purvis and Gulfport – Rawls was already a star while still in high school. Possessing one of the richest, sweetest, most relaxed vocal deliveries on the planet, back then he was noticed more for his guitar skills, playing in support of Joe Tex, Little Johnny Taylor and Z.Z. Hill before becoming band leader for O.V. Wright, one of the greatest voices and songwriters the music genre has ever known.

Most familiar today for the hits “Nickel And A Nail” and “I’ve Been Searching,” Wright joined the big orchestra in the sky in 1979, but Rawls kept his band together. He made his recording debut as a leader in 1985, and his releases on Rooster Blues, JSP, Catfood and other imprints have gained recognition  ever since, earning dozens of nominations and awards from Blues Blast, the Blues Music Association, Living Blues Magazine and others.

This album follows up Rawls’ pleasing 2017 release, Waiting For The Train, his soulful aural realization that, as someone in his late 60s who’s lost many friends his time is fleeting, too. The theme of I’m Still Around is much, much brighter. Recorded by Travis Gorman at Bigfoot Studios in Maumee, Ohio, it’s upbeat throughout. Johnny wrote all ten tunes here, and they’re brimming with life and attitude, which mirror his photo on the cover.

He’s backed here by The Third Street Cigar Blues Band: guitarists Larry “Entertainment” Gold and John McGhee, bassist Johnny “HiFi” Newmark, keyboard player Cadillac Dan Magers and drummer Scott Kretzer and The Toledo Horns – Rick Wolkins (trumpet) and Mark Lemle (saxophone) – all of whom combine to deliver the classic sound of Memphis, swinging steadily from the jump and never getting in Rawls’ way.

The opener, “Running Back To You,” is a silky smooth, medium-slow paced shuffle that finds the singer wanting to leave a lover, but her tears – and the good loving they enjoy when he returns — keep him coming back for more. It flows effortlessly into “What You Do To Me.” This time, Johnny can’t wait to get back home – basically for the same reason.

The ballad “Darling I Love You” keeps the message going with Rawls focusing on his luck and without any sexual overtones. But lovemaking returns to the front burner with “Back It Up On Me,” this time as Johnny spots a lady who drives him wild simply by the way she moves, and takes a backseat to romance in “Do-Do-Do-Do” as he realizes his good fortune each morning when he opens his eyes.

The title tune, “I’m Still Around,” is an autobiographical pat on the back in which Johnny states proudly that he’s overcome both doubters and misfortune, and he’s not going anywhere other than “Dancing Tonight,” which follows. Two more love songs — ballad “Holding On” and “Rock With Me Baby,” the fastest paced tune in the set – follow before Rawls takes you to church with “God Been Good To Me” to close.

Both Rawls and I’m Still Around are treasures. Available from Amazon, Israbox or direct from the artist himself (address above), this one’s both timeless and strongly recommended.

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