When it comes to soul vocals, there may be no one more well-regarded than Mr. Otis Clay, while Pittsburgh rhythm & blues/soul singer Billy Price still at times seems like one of the region’s best-kept musical secrets, despite having served as vocalist for the Roy Buchanan band for three years back in the 1970s (you can hear Price on both Buchanan’s That’s What I Am Here For and Live Stock albums) in addition to fronting his own band here in southwestern PA for the past few decades.
Still, it sometimes takes a pretty die-hard soul music fan to really be able to enjoy a full album from even the most masterful of the soul performers, with the songs often starting to sound a lot alike at some point. Which is what really makes this collaboration from Clay and Price – the pair’s first full album together even though they’ve been performing and recording songs with one another off and on since the early 1980s – such a gem; not only does This Time for Real (Bonedog Records/Vizztone Label Group) bring together two very fine voices, but it offers a remarkably rich diversity of tracks and grooves, making for one of the most entertaining soul-blues albums we’ve heard in quite some time.
While the tender, R&B sounds of songs like “I’m Afraid of Losing You” (Betty Everett), “Tears of God” (Los Lobos), “Love Don’t Love Nobody” (The Spinners), and “Don’t Leave Me Starving for Your Love” (Holland/Dozier/Holland) are all pretty superb, it’s the more upbeat numbers on which these two stars really shine, including the opening, horn-laced “Somebody’s Changing My Sweet Baby’s Mind” (Little Walter), which starts off delightful enough with Price on vocals and then just continues to get better with the switch to Clay for the next verse before the two join together on the chorus; perhaps our favorite track of the bunch in the smooth, soulful “All Because of Your Love” (Tyrone Davis); a funky, strutting “Broadway Walk” (Bobby Womack) that brings the party to you; and the old-time soul tones of “Too Many Hands” (one of two songs previously recorded by Clay on which the duo offers a new version here) and the closing “You Got Me Hummin'” (Sam & Dave).
Produced by guitarist and Roomful of Blues founder/former frontman Duke Robillard, who – along with his current band and a few members of Roomful’s horn section – also can be heard backing Price and Clay on the album, This Time for Real is what Clay calls “the culmination of what we started in 1982” (the first time the two performed together). But with any luck, what we have here will really just be volume one.