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Thumbs Up for Soul Men

Tom Henry, arts and music critic for the Toledo Blade offers praise for the latest Third Street release from Johnny Rawls:

Toledo Blade, November 24, 2020

Johnny Rawls. Third Street Cigar Records.

The Toledo-area connection with national blues recording artist Johnny Rawls continues on this delightful album, the third on Waterville-based Third Street Cigar Records.

It's a breezy, fun album that grows on you for different reasons than the previous two discs.

On the title track, Rawls — who performs guitar, keyboards, and vocals — pays tribute to soul singers of yesteryear, then explores some light, familiar, and always relevant songs on the rest of the disc, hitting upon the issues of faith, independence, love, the pitfalls of money, quirky small towns, and the essence of time.

I was especially fond of his gospel-infused, rollickin' and revival-like ending, "Calling on Jesus," which gets your hands clappin', your feet stompin', and your spirit movin'. If you didn't believe Rawls was a Southerner brought up on gospel music, you will after hearing that song.

The recording duties were divided among two continents again, some songs at Heyman Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark last February and others at Bigfoot Studios in Waterville last June.

Local musicians include Bigfoot's Travis Geiman on trombone, Mike Williams on alto sax, and Larry "Entertainment" Gold on guitar.

Rawls also has used local musicians on previous discs.

This one was again produced by Waterville businessman, blues aficionado and longtime Rawls buddy John Henry, a founding member and former president of northwest Ohio's Black Swamp Blues Society.

Engineering duties were split between Christian Heyman Zinckernagel of Heyman Studios in Denmark and Geiman of Bigfoot Studios in Waterville.

The first album Rawls recorded on the Third Street Cigar label was in 2018. I'm Still Around was named Soul Blues Album of the Year by the Blues Music Awards and Living Blues magazine.

His 2019 release, I Miss Otis Clay, was a fine tribute to the rhythm and blues/soul icon Rawls was friends with for 40 years. Clay, a member of the Blues Hall of Fame, died of a heart attack in 2016.

Rawls is a real pro who is a prolific writer and effortless musician-singer, someone with simple, yet penetrating, soulful messages.

The Waterville and Denmark studios also worked together on recording his tribute to Clay.


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