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Otis Clay

Blind Pig

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It takes Otis Clay approximately one second to pull a 180 on his new live album, Respect Yourself: Right after the closing vocals of rock-solid-love opener “You’re the One” (“Some people say that a man can love a woman too much/Well, I ain’t with that”), soft piano kicks off “When Hearts Grow Cold,” signaling that it’s time to grab a few prized memories and make for the door. A similar turnaround comes roughly midway through the set, when the soul hero precedes the public-domain-spiritual twofer “Amen/This Little Light of Mine” with an altogether different type of rapturous experience on “I Can Take You to Heaven Tonight.” That the crowd appreciates Clay’s performance all around, regardless of his changeable heart and a performer/audience language barrier—the recording was made at the 2003 Lucerne Blues Festival in Switzerland—is a testament to Clay’s stagemanship. Having recorded secular music since the ’60s, and having sung gospel even longer, Clay sounds pretty damn impressive regardless of the type of love he’s probing with his soft ’n’ smooth growl: spent (the aforementioned “Hearts”), wounded (“Sho Wasn’t Me”), spiritual/romantic (George Clinton’s “I Just Wanna Testify”), or absent (“Nickel and a Nail”). It helps, too, to have as tight an ensemble as Chicago’s Platinum Band, which is well-versed in all the usual kickass-band stuff. Guitarist Hollywood Scott tosses a great solo in on “Nickel,” and the whole crew wrings some eight minutes out of Kris Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times.” Still, it’s Clay’s show, and he’s a game, energetic host with kind words for not only some of the band members and the late soul/gospel/blues great Roebuck “Pops” Staples, but also for the festival’s staffers and Lucerne’s casinos. Add solid production and it’s hard to find much about the disc to disrespect. If you’re not a soul fan going into Respect Yourself, prepare to make your own about-face.

—Joe Dempsey