From Americana to blues, soul and R&B: John Paul Keith’s rhythm of the city

“Most cities have one sound, but there are many Memphis sounds. I tried to make a record that honors that”

John Paul Keith came to prominence in the burgeoning Americana scene (alternatively known as alt-country) as a founding member of the Viceroys and then the Nevers, all before the age of 23. After a decade in bands in New York City, Nashville and Birmingham Alabama, he settled in Memphis.

He’s built his solo career in the city over the last 15 years, as well as collaborating with Amy LaVere and Will Sexton. Fittingly, it was the heritage of the city that inspired Keith’s new record.

“I was at my home in Memphis one evening and heard a car pass by blasting Al Green’s Love and Happiness, which was recorded just a couple miles away. I was struck by how Howard Grimes’ drumming just seems to embody something about the feel and the pace of life for me here. I thought to myself, ‘Howard Grimes is the rhythm of the city.’ My next thought was, ‘That sounds like a title track!'”

It’s Keith’s fifth solo album but it’s particularly special to him as it’s the first that he’s produced himself. It was was recorded mostly live to tape at Electraphonic Recording.

The album incorporates influences of Sun blues, Stax soul, and Hi R&B, as well as the geography and culture of his adopted home: “The vibe came about organically from playing Beale Street and Graceland and working with horn sections more frequently the last few years.”

It features Tierinii and Tikyra Khamiir Jackson of Grammy nominees Southern Avenue on background vocals, Al Gamble of St. Paul and the Broken Bones on keyboards, Danny Banks of Nicole Atkins band on drums, and Matthew Wilson of John Németh and the Blue Dreamers on bass. Trumpeter Marc Franklin and tenor and baritone saxmen Art Edmaiston and Kirk Smothers feature heavily as there’s a horn section on every song.

The Rhythm of The City is due out on Wild Honey Records on February 19, 2021.

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