Jackie Johnson Memphis Jewel

This Memphis-based soul/blues singer is a comparatively new name here, but she's already acquired a following in Europe, appearing at the Montreux Jazz Festival and Royal Albert Hall. Johnson paid his dues backing the likes of Shirley Brown and Barbara Carr, and has previously recorded gospel-based albums. She shines here not just with a full-blooded and convincingly soulful voice but as an accomplished songwriter on a couple of tunes. She adds a fresh spin on some R&B classics, including "Clean Up Woman," "Tears of a Clown" and Gladys Knight hit "It Should Have Been Me," while other numbers on this nicely varied album touch upon blues, gospel ("Wash Your Hands") and (on "Brightside") New Orleans influences. Adding a polished, but never slick, sonic veneer is renowned producer Jim Gaines (Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan) and a skilled studio band featuring members of the Rays. "Love You Still" is a blues track written by Johnny Rawls and he contributes duet vocals. Look for this strong effort to deservedly increase Johnson's profile. (Catfood)