Jimmy Barnes – Soul Searchin’

27 April 16

SOUL SEARCHIN’ is Jimmy Barnes searching out the people and places and forgotten songs that helped shape him as an artist. The ultimate result is a thumping set of great classic soul songs from the ’50s and ’60s that most of us have never heard before.

SOUL SEARCHIN’ is the sound of Jimmy Barnes claiming these forgotten gems as his own, recorded in Nashville at one of the traditional homes of soul, the legendary Grand Victor Studio, with Jimmy backed by one of the greatest soul ensembles ever assembled.

“I’ve called this new album SOUL SEARCHIN’ because it’s been one of those years, in more ways than one!” says Jimmy, who spent much of the past year writing his soon-to-be-released autobiography, in between his usual hectic solo show schedule and recording and touring with Cold Chisel.

“We wanted to record a final instalment to the soul set as I’d originally done SOUL DEEP in 1991, which was more Motown; and then SOUL DEEPER [2000], which was Memphis-based; and then a kind of prequel THE RHYTHM AND THE BLUES [2009], which was where soul came from.”

So first and foremost with SOUL SEARCHIN’ came the search for the songs.

“The idea was to find more obscure soul songs that people may not have heard – the diamonds in the rough,” says Jim. “I was just looking and looking for songs that for one reason or another were skipped over or they were too hard for radio or the singer was cross-eyed – for whatever reason, these songs were missed.”

With the help of producer Kevin Shirley and old mate Pierre Baroni (“Pierre has worked on all my soul records and he knows everything about soul music,” says Jimmy), the set-list of SOUL SEARCHIN’ is like an alternative universe in the history of soul. It’s hard to believe this amazing collection of songs were all but lost in the annals for so long.

Big stomping numbers such as “A Woman Needs to Be Loved” (originally a b-side for chart-topper Tyrone Davis); “I Worship the Ground You Walk On” (by the relatively unknown Jimmy Hughes); “Lonely for You Baby” (Sam Dees); and the groove laden album opener, “She’s Looking Good” which is best remembered as sung by Wilson Pickett . Once you’ve heard Jimmy deliver the dozen classic cuts on SOUL SEARCHIN’, you too will be left wondering why you haven’t been singing along to these songs your entire life.

As with each of the previous volumes of Jimmy’s classic soul records, the making of SOUL SEARCHIN’ was as much about the journey of discovery as it was about the music itself, visiting the places and working with some of the legendary players that actually helped create the genre.

It was Kevin Shirley’s idea to record SOUL SEARCHIN’ on location in Nashville, with a vision of bringing in a supergroup of legendary local musos to make this experience as authentic as it gets. The entire pilgrimage and experience was captured in an evocative hour-long “making of” documentary, also entitled SOUL SEARCHIN’.

Kevin Shirley asked the iconic bassist Michael Rhodes to take on the role of band leader for the project. “He’s the most recorded bass player in musical history,” Jimmy points out. “He’s played on more records than anyone!”

Michael Rhodes brought together a backing band featuring Greg Morrow on drums (“He’s played on a million records, too,” says Jimmy, including Joan Baez and Johnny Cash); Steve Nathan (ex- Muscle Shoals) on keys, and guitarist Robert McNelley.

“They came as a unit and I didn’t know how they were going to play,” Jimmy says of the outfit. “I knew a few of the names, I’d seen them on records, but I didn’t know them.

“I landed in Nashville the night before, bad sleep because of jetlag, went to the studio, walked in and started cutting tracks. And from track one I realised these guys were pulling me to the top of my game. It was amazing. We were expecting to get maybe one, two tracks a day; there were a couple of days we got five tracks. It was just phenomenal. I started singing and it felt like I’d been singing these songs all my life.”

Adding to this pulsating and pumping musical core, the sound of SOUL SEARCHIN’ is further embellished by an incredibly punchy horn section that does its best to steal the show, once again arranged by Lee Thornburg, who previously worked with Jimmy on SOUL DEEPER and THE RHYTHM AND THE BLUES.

“And of course,” adds Jimmy, “every great soul record has a great vocal section doing backing vocals. My daughter Mahalia sings with a couple of her friends, Juanita Tippins and Jade MacRae, and they happen to be one of the best vocal sections I’ve ever heard.”

On top of all this, Kevin Shirley organised guest appearances by some legendary figures of the original soul scene. Lauded songwriter Dan Penn joins Jimmy on a remake of one of his own classics, “The Dark End of the Street”. It wasn’t until Penn was in the studio that Jimmy realised his special guest also co-wrote two of the other songs featured on SOUL SEARCHIN’ – the brooding album-closer “Rainbow Road” and “I Worship the Ground You Walk On”, which here features a cameo by another legend in Steve Cropper, best known as the guitarist of the Stax Records house bandBooker T. & the M.G.’s, which backed artists such as Otis Redding, Sam & DaveCarla ThomasRufus Thomas and Johnnie Taylor. He also acted as the producer of many of those records and was later a member of the Blues Brothers band.

And to finish it all off, a very special session with none other than the original Memphis Boys, who feature on a huge ballad called “If Loving You Is a Crime (I’ll Always Be Guilty)”.

“The Memphis Boys played with everyone – Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke, Ben E. King, and Joe Tex,” says Jimmy. “They played on ‘Suspicious Minds’ and ‘In The Ghetto’ for Elvis Presley!”

“They just blew me away with their musicianship and their stories; they’ve played for Neil Diamond and Dusty Springfield, and played on ‘The Letter’ for The Box Tops” he beams. “They are such incredible players and it was unbelievable for me to have them in the studio. They came in, sat down and went ‘Whomp! Two! Bang!’ The groove of doom! So there I was, making a record in Nashville with The Memphis Boys. It was an incredible moment and I was just laughing to myself.”

“Making this album was as good as it gets for me. It was such a great experience.”

The end result: SOUL SEARCHIN’ is a grand soul album by any measure. It’s the soul record Jimmy Barnes has been readying himself to make for 25 years. Backed by some of the best players on the planet, Jimmy ventures beyond the standards of trad soul and R&B to uncover a selection of forgotten gems that he very much makes his own.

Great songs, great players, Jimmy pouring all his experience, know-how and finesse into one of the stand-out records of his remarkable career.

The search is over. The latest and last word in soul.