PAUL RODGERS – The Royal Sessions

429 / Pie 2014

PAUL RODGERS - The Royal Sessions

PAUL RODGERS –
The Royal Sessions

Free and easy, legendary British warbler realizes his American dream – on musical terms.

Paul Rodgers is of the rare breed: a musician’s musician, he remains a people’s man. A regular guest at high-profile events, Rodgers still moves a regular punter with “All Right Now” and other hits he wrote and delivered with FREE and BAD COMPANY. But there’s always been a burning love in Paul’s heart for two genres of African American music that made him what he is: the singer paid his dues to one with 1993’s Grammy-nominated “Muddy Water Blues” and now came the time of the other, which is soul. A lifetime in the making, they say, yet following the evolution of Rodgers’ voice makes it clear it was only recently that Paul’s pipes have gained the suppleness needed to run the whole emotional spectrum of songs associated with the Memphis scene and, in particular, the famous Royal Studios. He sang a couple of Otis Redding’s evergreens in the 80s – “These Arms Of Mine” on Bill Wyman’s LP and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” at one of the aforementioned functions, Atlantic Records’ 40th Anniversary – but the veteran’s fifth studio album delivers a full blow.

More so, it’s a concept album. It’s understood that old records share a lot of lyrical staples and hooks, but Rodgers sequenced the pieces so that they form a suite of sorts, shot through with a theme of permanent movement, rather than constant sorrow, where the call-and-response of closer “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember” echoes the bittersweet, if lush, stroll of the strings-drenched and wah-wah-rippled “Walk On By” to send a message to a deluxe edition’s bonus of FREE’s “Walk In My Shadow” which has been reshaped to fit the Stax template, horns replacing the erstwhile menace. And the walk is light, Paul singing effortlessly, exactly as he remembers the classics from his childhood days, with no mannerism, not trying to interpret anything, albeit infusing it all with his own life’s experience. That’s why another Otis perennial, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” transcends the sensuality of a love plea to turn into a tremulous, tension-twisting tribute to the power of music, as does Sam & Dave’s “I Thank You” which lays a homage essence of it on the line with a restrained, dignified panache.

It’s not a mere gratitude: if all proceeds from Rodgers’ previous release, single “With Our Love” co-written with Perry Margouleff, went to a horse sanctuary, the sales generated by the Margouleff-produced “The Royal Sessions” benefit the Stax Music Academy. For Paul the people’s man the circle stays unbroken, this circularity linking two blues numbers on offer, Albert King’s “Born Under A Bad Sign” and the Hammond-oiled “Down Don’t Bother Me” – here devoid of the usual grit yet retaining their swagger-smeared desperation. There’s a natural, not acquired, authenticity, what with the involvement of those who played on many an original track such as two of the HODGES brothers, organist Charles and bassist Leroy, and who informed the Englishman of the fact that Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand The Rain” was laid down at the same studio and the cut, one of the rare composition with Rodgers slipping into falsetto over the drizzly groove, augments the record in fine fashion. And if it sends cold shivers down one’s spine, there’s the buoyant, unrestrained “It’s Growing” and “Any Ole Way” to heal and heat the heart.

“That’s How Strong My Love Is” comes as a testament to the Northern English lad’s fascination with Southern soul and blues. Rodgers nails them without ever hammering down, gracefully tugging at consonants and releasing the vowels in a true royal style. A crowning achievement of Paul’s career, this time Grammy is due – and, maybe, an OBE, too.

*****

March 21, 2014

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