Album review: JOHN PAUL KEITH – The Rhythm of the City

JOHN PAUL KEITH - The Rhythm of the City

Wild Honey Records [Release date 19.02.21]

The over-riding descriptor of John Paul Keith’s fifth solo album is, “Vintage”. With twelve years’ experience as part of the Memphis music scene, plugging away as a session player and live act, there is a pleasing bluesman authenticity to The Rhythm of the City. Recorded mostly live-to-tape at Electraphonic Studios, the album is awash with classic Stax soul arrangements, electric blues licks and even a hint of Merseybeat swagger. Pleasingly, these throwbacks don’t feel like pretension or self-conscious hipster appropriation, rather John Paul Keith is just an old soul.

Proceedings kick off with ‘How Can You Walk Away’, a moody question posed by a spurned lover. Call and response backing vocals, gospel organ and an echoing guitar solo all work together to provide a confident opener. On ‘Love Love Love’ Keith does his best Buddy Holly impression, to create an effective 50s rock & roll pastiche, with a deceptively simple and catchy melody.

In the album’s press release Keith notes; “Most cities have one sound, but there are many Memphis sounds. I tried to make a record that honors that” and by the third track, the listener understands what he means. ‘The Sun’s Gonna Shine Again’ plays with a different sonic palette again; Al Green style horn-lines (with a hint of electric sitar) adorn this innocent ballad about looking to the future. While ‘The Rhythm of the City’ reveals the extent of John Paul Keith’s musical geekery, a guitar coda that wails on a B.B. King level.

Perhaps most impressive about John Paul Keith’s production approach is the way he takes “a bit of this, a bit of that” travelling across musical eras. Take, ‘Keep On Keep On’ which has the construction of an early Beatles song but imports horn-lines squarely from the Motown era. Frequently Keith inadvertently evokes a British rock & roll act; as a Tennessee native this is probably coincidental, yet the similarities are there. Record standout ‘If I Ever Get the Chance Again’ could easily fit in the repertoire of The Hollies, with a chorus begging for the listener to stick a lighter in the air and sway.

Closing out with slow-burning torch song ‘How Do I Say No’, The Rhythm of The City finds a studious musician that can effortlessly dial into musical history and conjure nostalgia for yesteryear but still sound genuine. ***

Review by Phillip Beamon

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