Walk A Mile In My Shoes Album Review

Living Blues Magazine
By Steve Sharp
June, 2007

Otis Clay told LB readers in a 2001 cover feature that he might soon be moved to make another gospel album. But what the cagey soul veteran did not mention was that he would produce this disc himself and release it on his own Chicago-based ECHO Records, and that it would be so good it might well be a contender for a 2007 gospel Grammy.

Dating to the early 1960’s on Chicago’s One-Der-Ful label, the 65-year-old Clay’s recorded work has been pervaded by his deep spiritual roots, but he has only released one other complete album of gospel music-1993’s critically acclaimed The Gospel Truth on the Blind Pig label.

Walk A Mile In My Shoes finds Clay creating more wonderful, spiritually oriented music with many of his old friends. Some these artists will be familiar to soul and blues fans, including legendary Hi Records session men Teenie, Leroy and Charles Hodges as well as keyboardist Dedrick Blanchard. Clay’s son, Mark Clay can be heard backing his father on drums. Another youngblood, Hollywood Scott, son of the late South Side Chicago guitar mentor Buddy Scott, also lends his talent to the music of praise.

This disc is culled from several sources including recent sessions at Chicago’s Redwood and Tone Zone Studios, as well as live shows in Japan and Chicago, but turns out to be a solid and cohesive presentation. It is bound in an attractive, fold-out , glossy cardboard package containing fairly detaliled session information but unfortunately no liner notes.

The soothing, keyboard and harmony-laden Johnnie Taylor composition, God Is Standing By is the disc’s cursory kickoff, followed by the similarly smooth title track which features the tenor sax of Gene Barge and the baritone sax of Willie Henderson and others. With these master brass-men, the number is not surprisingly one of the albums most stirring pieces and comes closer than any on the disc to the soul blues most familiar to Clay’s secular fans.

From there, Clay speaks directly to God interpreting Joe Roberson’s I Adore You Lord. The singer is heard laying himself bare about what is most important to him in his earthbound life and how much he appreciates the efforts of his God-past, present and future. Somewhat curiously, the same version of His Love, which appeared on Clay’s landmark Soul Man-Live In Japan CD in the middle 1980’s under the title His Precious Love, is found here again. Unfortunately, it is sonically diminished, perhaps due to time on the shelf.

Supported by a throaty, five man choir, Clay makes easy work of Leroy Crume’s The Love of God. Another very different Crume composition, this one the tear-jerker Heaven Is My Home, follows and captures Clay making a rare reach to the falsetto register.

Otis digs in the songbook of the late Memphis soul contemporary O.V. Wright to get himself On Jesus Program. The song is the album’s most traditional gospel number and is likely much akin stylistically to music that wafted from the windows of Clay’s boyhood church in his native Waxshaw, Mississippi on Sundays in the 1950’s.

The Soul Stirrers join in on a touching four song medley that includes Nearer To Thee and Last Mile of The Way but it’s Stevie Wonder’s downright odd composition Love’s In Need of Love Today-an 11 minute spiritual opus here-that drives Clay to his most fiery and passionate vocal on the album.

A number Clay has called one of his favorites in his repertoire, If I Could Reach Out and Help, comes near the album’s close. It gets an especially strong kick from Carla Thomas, who performs it with Clay before an adoring throng at The Chicago Gospel Festival. It’s riffling rhythm guitar and shrieked female vocals are guaranteed to induce shivers.

Although Otis Clay is best known for being one of the world’s greatest soul singers, he has said he feels most comfortable performing gospel. This diverse, compelling and beautiful collection stands as proof of the living legend’s statement.

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