Tiger in a Cage

Stories are a singer’s stock in trade, and Johnny Rawls has a lot of stories to tell on Tiger in a Cage, his 10th album in as many years, and none of them is more compelling than the title track. The tiger in this cage is a 19-year-old former dope peddler (now prisoner) who’s “locked in a cage/filled with hate/filled with rage.” Like most of Rawls’ songs, this has a sinuous, swaying rhythm that seems at odds with the song’s serious theme. Rawls is a bona fide Southern soul/blues man and—accompanied by an eight-piece band and back-up singers—he works his way through 12 songs, including an upbeat original, “Every Woman Needs a Working Man” (“She don’t need someone around just achin’/she need a man to bring home that bacon”), and an earlier hit from him, “Red Cadillac.” Among the many dance-oriented numbers—e.g., the super lively “Your Love Is Lifting Me (Higher and Higher)”—is a real surprise: the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden.”