Few blues records go down any way but smooth. Perhaps they simply cater to the persistently needy set in our emotional arsenal. But the danger blues musicians confront is becoming another face in the crowd, and it’s a danger Johnny Rawls sidesteps with practiced and soulful grace.
Red Cadillac will take you back to the timeless decades of Motown, when the less innocent lyrical stories were at least thinly and tastefully veiled by a catchy bass line and muted brass. There’s no mystery in “Can I Get It,” but the way Rawls’ apple-butter voice croons “If you got the time/I got the money/come on baby/let me taste that honey” leaves more to the imagination than contemporaries in other genres.
Rawls, born in 1951, clearly grew up in this era of musical lingerie. His Southern roots place him in the middle of the action, and his styling is a bit of the old with a bit of the new. The blues might be timeless, but with hits like “Hard Times,” Rawls draws on the catalysts of today. “Gas gone up/don’t know what to do/my woman is bussing/and my kids are crying too.”
In a somewhat surprising twist, however, Rawls offers up threads of hope in Red Cadillac’s bluesy weave. “Live your life/one day at a time/you don’t know what’s/waiting down the line.” No doubt a lesson worth heeding.
Johnny Rawls plays Sean Kelly’s Saturday, May 30, at 9 PM. Cover TBA.