No boundaries, indeed! While his music remains influenced by the blues, Johnny Rawls has never confined himself to twelve-bar convention. Most would label him a soul man rather than a blues player, a categorization he’s probably quite happy with.
Soul is definitely at the centre of No Boundaries, with Rawls applying his appealing rasp to a short but sweet playlist, all tunes written or co-written by bassist Bob Trenchard. (Guitarist Steve Lott takes co-writer credit on a pair). It allows Rawls to make room for such flourishes as a Spanish-inflected guitar solo on “Fallen Bird,” and the smoky solo sax that opens “Nothing Lasts Forever.” All tunes feature uniformly excellent keyboard work from Dan Ferguson, who seems to have an intuitive understanding of just how to cushion each song with understated organ or subtle rhythmic jabs on electric piano.
The material is generally top-notch (albeit a bit too subtle for any hooks to sink indelibly into memory), but Rawls and his team of backup singers (Reba Russell and Jackie Johnson) elevate things with gospel fervor and sheer conviction. Blues fans will enjoy the relatively straightforward “Train Keep Rolling,” with its ‘less-is-more’ harmonica and unison saxes, as well as “Never Found A Smoking Gun”; both allow Rawls to exhibit a suitably snarling tone on guitar during typically brief, understated solos.
Elsewhere there’s the hopeful “Keep The Faith,” the resigned yet defiant “”I Won’t Give Up,” and the optimistic-despite-all-odds “Fallen Bird”; the titles alone should provide a clue about the overall feeling of the disc. Rawls has taken some knocks, but hasn’t lost either faith or hope. Hope, indeed, is Rawls’ message throughout, though he never resorts to the preachy or pedantic to get that message across.
While the blues content might be a little short for die-hard fans, taken as a whole “No Boundaries” is a positive and uplifting collection. Given the state of the world today, can that be a bad thing?
Recommended to those who want just a little more than same-old-same-old; cynics need not apply.