Sometimes the biggest challenge in reviewing an album is finding a theme. However, John Paul Keith’s aptly named The Rhythm of the City gets straight to the point. Recently released on Wild Honey Records, the album is a clear ode to the sounds and influences of the Memphis music scene.
The sultry album opener, “How Can you Walk Away,” features plenty of tenor and baritone sax, soulful background vocals thanks to Tierinii and Tikyra Jackson of Grammy-nominated group Southern Avenue, and Keith’s trademark youthful, yet emotive, vocal quality. It also features the first of many fiery guitar solos that remind us why Keith is a go-to musician in the Memphis scene. The song stands out in my mind for its crossover potential where it could easily appeal to fans of blues-rock units like the Black Keys.
If you’re more a fan of the toe-tapping side of the blues, The Rhythm of the City also has you covered. The album takes a rockabilly turn with “Love, Love, Love.” The song has enough Elvis Presley influence that it should come with a Sun Studios label. Later, “If I Had The Money” pairs up-tempo R&B with finger-snapping swing. The saxophone solo and subtle, yet powerful, guitar work on this track are some of my favorite musical highlights of the entire album.
I would, of course, be remiss if I didn’t mention the title track. In both the words and the music, you can feel the spark that drove the artist to create this record. Sonically the richest on the album, it features a bold horn section that is matched with the intensity of Keith’s crying guitar.
It is important to clarify that The Rhythm of the City is not a Memphis music clone. Instead, each track feels like an original thought that has been shaped by Keith’s genuine affection for the city where he plies his trade. In wrangling so many iconic influences, there’s always the risk that the work will feel affected. Instead, Keith presents us with an authentic look at how he has embraced the Memphis scene and how the scene has influenced him as an artist.