Musical sparks will no doubt be flying when blues and soul standouts Johnny Rawls and Dave Keller team up for a potent doubleheader Nov. 10 at Burke Mountain.
Rawls, a native of Purvis, Mississippi, is a living old-school soul legend who’s touring in support of his excellent new album, “I’m Still Around,” released last month on Third Street Cigar Records.
Keller, a Montpelier-based blues and soul standout, performs in support of his just-released new album, “Every Soul’s a Star,” his first for the Texas-based label Catfood Records.
Rawls, who turned 67 last month, “draws on the 1950s and ‘60s deep soul-blues tradition in his guitar playing,” according to the All Music Guide, “yet his lyrics and singing are completely 1990s.”
“I’m Still Around” has already been garnering glowing reviews. “His smooth, soothing, sensuous vocals define the phrase ‘sweet soul music,’ and he remains the best soul blues singer today,” said Living Blues magazine of Rawls.
“There’s not a bad song on ‘I’m Still Around,’ and the best songs display Rawls’ ability to get inside a song and deliver with honesty, emotion and soul, and to create a beautiful moment that touches us or gets us moving.”
Keller’s latest was produced by Grammy-winner Jim Gaines (Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Luther Allison) and recorded at Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, Texas. The album features the Catfood Records house band, which includes such lauded musicians as legendary Motown guitarist Johnny McGhee and soul icon and label owner Bob Trenchard on bass — the latter called Keller “the most talented songwriter I’ve ever worked with.”
The “high production recording” “wipes away any doubt that Montpelierite Keller is a full-fledged blues and soul music star,” according to Art Edelstein, of The Times Argus/Rutland Herald, who called it “a big step up the ladder of music recognition for Keller.”
Keller calls Rawls “one of my real mentors,” and has been instrumental in getting Rawls to play in Vermont in recent years. Keller first met Rawls nearly a decade ago at the Vermont Blues Festival at Mount Snow in southern Vermont. Keller was in Memphis not long after to record on an album by blues guitarist Ronny Earl, and ran into Rawls again and introduced himself.
Rawls told Keller he’d get him a gig. “He put me on this gig in Rockland, Maine in front of 8,000 people, at the North Atlantic Blues Fest,” said Keller in a 2017 interview.
“And there was no rehearsal, there was no set list. I mean, no preparation whatsoever, other than like in the car before the gig, him telling me: ‘Dave, you know, don’t never change the groove. When you got the groove, don’t never change it,’” added Keller with a laugh.
“And ever since then, it’s just been a fun ride. I basically finagled my way into being his New England backing band.”
Rawls typically stays with Keller when he performs in Vermont.
“He has fun here,” said Keller. “He likes Vermonters.”