“I’m for real, give you something you can feel
Because my world is not black and white
I got more soul”
[A] radio host friend of mine once remarked, “You can never have too much soul music.” At the time, the comment didn’t seem especially notable. After all, just a few years ago it seemed that genuine soul music was too often relegated to the “oldies” section. But that has truly changed. So, in the spirt of “never too much,” we give you eight artists and their seven recent soul-flavored albums.
Dallas-based Bobby Patterson sounds as fresh as ever, at age 70, on his new Omnivore recording, I Got More Soul!. Back in the mid-’60s, he was the leading soul man in Dallas. Then, after many years spent primarily as a DJ and producer, Patterson drew attention as a performer once again at this year’s SXSW, followed up with a Lincoln Center performance in August. According to the album’s producer and bandleader (and former Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears’ guitarist) Zach Ernst, “I’ve never seen an R&B show, a more real-deal, old-school show than just being on stage with Bobby…All I wanted to do was set him up to be revered and witnessed by a much larger audience.” This is indeed the real-deal stuff, a true master at work.
After their collaborations on 2013’s tribute to O.V. Wright, it seemed inevitable that Johnny Rawls and Otis Clay would join forces for an entire record. And now we have it: Soul Brothers, featuring originals and re-worked classics like Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” Tyrone Davis’ “Turn Back the Hands of Time” and Dave Mason’s “Only You Know and I Know.” These two legends deliver deep southern soul with touches of gospel, reminiscent of the great Hi Records.
Mississippi’s Grady Champion makes his debut on the iconic Malaco Records (“The Last Soul Company”) with his blues/soul hybrid album, Bootleg Whiskey. Champion rises to the lofty standards set by label mates like Bobby “Blue” Bland, Bobby Rush, Denise LaSalle, Johnnie Taylor, Z.Z. Hill and more. Champion’s harmonica and vocals are backed by that classic sound of horns and background singers, as he mixes his own originals with covers of classics by the likes of George Jackson. Be sure to catch “South Side” and “I Tripped and Fell in Love.”
Billy Boy Arnold, like Otis Clay, is a Blues Hall of Famer. The Blues Soul of Billy Boy Arnold is his second Duke Robillard-produced album, following 2001’s Boogie n Shuffle. Here, Robillard gives Arnold the opportunity to showcase his soulful side. Eleven of the 14 tracks are covers, ranging from Joe Tex to B.B. King to Chuck Berry. Backed by Robillard’s stellar band and The Roomful of Blues horns, Arnold also offers unique takes on such classics as “St. James Infirmary,” the Adderley/Brown chestnut “Work Song” and “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water.” It’s probably not the voice that will grab you, but his natural, stylistically pure approach will.
The son of a preacher man, Mississippi’s Paul Thorn delivers ten feel-good songs about universal truths on Too Blessed To Be Stressed. Thorn is a roots rock, gospel-influenced artist who has purposely written these songs with huge vocal hooks and choruses, producing a soul music-type effect, a sound likely sparked by his experiences in his father’s church: “The white people sang gospel like it was country music and the black people sang it like it was rhythm and blues. Both black and white people attended my father’s church and that’s how I learned to sing mixing those styles.” You’ll find yourself singing along to tunes like “Get You a Healin’” and “This Is a Real Goodbye.”
Former rocker Mike Farris has become one of the most powerful vocalists in any genre in the past decade. After several acclaimed releases and multiple awards in the past seven years, Shine For All The People is perhaps the finest display yet of his signature fusion of gospel, blues and soul, featuring horns, background singers and hosts of musicians with Farris’s voice prevailing and commanding as if he’s on some special plane above it all. His rendering of Mary Gauthier’s “Mercy Now” is especially poignant among an album completely full of stunning tracks.
The late Sean Costello had an innate feel for rhythm and blues, evident on the previously unreleased In the Magic Shop, recorded when he was just 25. Costello was a child prodigy guitarist who had become a headline blues artist in his twenties. His passionate vocals, songwriting and guitar skills enabled him to move seamlessly between R&B, rock and blues. Sadly, Costello’s bipolar disorder was diagnosed too late and we lost him the day before his 29th birthday. Thankfully we have this marvelous recording, the profits from which will go to the Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bipolar Research. Listen to “Can’t Let Go,” “Trust in Me” and Bobby Womack’s “Check It Out” as well as the blues tunes and you can’t help but admire Costello’s fervor. Soul music lifts your spirits. Whether you’re getting enough of it or not, you need to get more from these eight artists.
– Jim Hynes
(Bobby Patterson photo via Omnivore Recordings, Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls via Blind Raccoon, Grady Champion by Chuck Ryan via Merlis For Hire, Billy Boy Arnold via Alligator Records, Paul Thorn via Conqueroo, Mike Farris via Compass Records, Sean Costello via seancostellofund.org)