“Viva Soul” by RJ and the Soul: Soulful and sexy

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RJ and The Soul are an interesting outfit with a signature sound that draws on different genres—among them Latin rock, R&B, pop, there’s even a touch of vintage folk rock a la Fairport Convention—to come up with a sense of intrigue all their own for the top notch album Viva Soul.

It’s hard to pin them down to one bag, sticking them in some category or other, but one thing unquestionably is clear: the musicianship’s tight as the crack of dawn, especially the pocket-locked rhythm section with tasty drumming you could set a metronome to and bass playing fluid as a river. Go look in a musical dictionary for a definition of the term “tight” and don’t be surprised at all if you see a picture of Jason Flinn (drums) with Taylor Cisco (bass). There’s also a lot nice guitar work going on by Phil Miller and Oscar Del Sebastien. Vocalist Rachael Johnson has a real sweet, lilting quality and comes across with genuine passion.

Importantly, the writing, most of it by Johnson, Cisco, and Del Sebastien, is consistently rich. To say the lead cut “Velvet Skies” is a clear standout by no means sells the rest of the songs short. They’re all pretty damned good. This one, though, marketed right, could put the band on the map. Johnson’s seamless, subtly emotive phrasing is sheer seduction. It’s a damned shame there’s no lyric sheet and you can hardly make out much of what she’s saying, but that doesn’t stop you from feeling what you hear. The Santana-ish samba style arrangement is state-of-the-art wizardry.

“City By The Sea” is the sort of song that made Fleetwood Mac famous: mellow, acoustic groove with a rolling, snapping kick to it, singing that hints and haunts with libido-teasing nuance. Anyone wondering whether RJ and the Soul can cut it live gets the question answered (yes, they can and do) with the tracks “Step Two” and “I Know You Love Me.”

Everybody in the band has one of those cool nicknames you often hear musicians go by. The full lineup officially is Rachael “White Chocolate” Johnson, Jason “Pepperoni” Flinn, Taylor “Barefoot” Cisco, Oscar “Troubadour” Del Sebastien (rhythm guitar),  Phil “Preacher Man” Miller (lead guitar), David “Mr. Magic” Mitchell (backing vocals), and Dev “Chocolate Diamond” Jana, backing vocals—with the guest accompaniment settling for regular, plain old humdrum monikers: Elena Garner on backing vocals, Pamela Machala on piano and backing vocals, and LaMont Sandifer on percussion.

Unless she has a passion for candy, it’s there’s no indication where Johnson got her handle. You’d think, well, it’s a blue-eyed soul thing. Nothing could be farther from the case.  Rachael Johnson is a simply a fine rock vocalist with a sound that, on occasion includes some of the sexiest noises known to mankind. Backed by one seriously gifted band. You want Christmas in July? Get yourself a copy of RJ and the Soul’s Viva Soul. Don’t forget to send a thank-you card.