Lou Rawls brought his resort hotel show to the Merriweather Post Pavilion last night. He sang his latest single, his biggest hits, show tunes, oldies, cleaned-up blues standards and even his Budweiser commercial. Backed by a seven-man horn section, Rawls cruised through the show with smooth professionalism. Two bare-legged women slithered and sang beside him on the big numbers; even the between-song patter was preplanned with drum cues. Rawls was in good voice, but he took no risks and produced no surprises.
Rawls came out of Chicago more than 20 years ago as a rhythm & blues singer with a deep baritone that could shift easily from creamy crooning to a gravelly groan. That voice was intact last night, but when he sang a blues like "Hoochie Coochie Man," all the threat and hurt was refined right out of his voice. His voice milked the mainstream pop tunes like "Send in the Clowns" and added just enough grainy bluesiness to make them different.
Opening the show was A Taste of Honey, a female soul duo who offered the novelty of playing their own instruments: Hazel Payne played electric guitar; Janice Marie Johnson played electric bass. Like their singing, the playing was competent but less than special. They flitted from style to style--disco, pop-soul, funk and even two Oriental novelty numbers--and were always entertaining but never inspiring. Payne played a koto on the Oriental songs, and Johnson did a fan dance and a ballet number, but the gimmicks didn't compensate for the music.