GROWING UP, Bobby King and Terry Evans both learned that combination of gospel and blues that creates classic Southern soul. They met on the West Coast and formed a soul vocal duo in the tradition of Sam & Dave. There they caught the ear of roots-rock guitarist Ry Cooder, who hired them as singers for his band and produced their debut album as a duo, 1988's "Live and Let Live!"
Cooder plays guitar on eight of the 10 tracks of the duo's new "Rhythm, Blues, Soul & Grooves," which proves classic Southern soul may have peaked as a style in the late '60s, but its pleasures are timeless.. Both men have strong, full-chested tenors -- King's is a bit smoother, while Evans's is a bit rougher -- and both have mastered the essential soul device of combining full emotional exposure with stylish control. When King assures his lover that "You're the One" in a trembling high tenor or when Evans reinforces his plea, "I Wanna Be With You," with a compelling dance beat, their voices link feeling to form inseparably.
If there is a weakness to the album, it's the songwriting (King wrote five songs, Evans four and Jorge Calderon, Cooder's ex-bassist, one). The songs are good enough to do justice to the two exemplary voices, but nothing about the lyrics or hooks is original enough to suggest that other singers might want to record these songs. The album's highlights are the ballads: King's high-tenor Al Green-like catharsis "You and Me," and Evans's relaxed, romantic "I'll Be Strong," which features a gorgeous Hawaiian guitar part by Cooder.
BOBBY KING AND TERRY EVANS -- "Rhythm, Blues, Soul & Grooves" (Rounder). Appearing Sunday with the William Clark Blues Band at the Birchmere.