Sunday, 23 December 2012

Booker T. Jones - The Road From Memphis

60's legend, aided by some famous pals, in fine return to form.

Back in the 60's when soul music rivalled The Beatles in terms of world and chart domination, two record labels both had very convincing claims to rule the soul roost, each boasting an in-house recording studio and house band. The first of these was Berry Gordy's Motown, a production line set-up with a string of solo vocalists and vocal groups, smoothly groomed for pop stardom, their music aimed at both a black and white audience. The hidden, faceless, in-house studio band became known as The Funk Brothers.

Deep down south in Memphis, Stax Records put together an altogether grittier soulful groove. During the time of the civil rights movement, the label staff along with the in-house studio band were progressively mixed race. The house band at Stax was Booker T. And The MG's, led by organist Booker T. Jones. The MG's line-up was completed by bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, guitarist Steve Cropper, and drummer par excellence Alan Jackson Jr. (Who died in tragic circumstances in 1975). Together this super tight unit provided the backing on literally hundreds of soul tracks for singers such as Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave, The Staple Singers, and Johnnie Taylor. On top of this the group also managed to find the time to make hit records of their own, perhaps the best known of which is the classic “Green Onions”. 

Click over the jump for more on The Road To Memphis.
Booker T. now returns with his first album since 2009's “Potato Hole”. No members of the MG's are present on this recording though plenty of current soul music royalty appear, most notably The Roots as backing band, with co-producer (along with Jones and Rob Schnapf), ?uestlove on drumming duties. The Hammond maestro proves himself to be as nifty as ever around a keyboard. Opening track “Walking Papers” owes more to Meters, New Orleans style funk than gritty, driving Memphis groove, but that's in no way a criticism. Laid back but snappy drums, chicken scratch guitars and sparse yet solid bass provide the backing for Jones to do his thing, taking the basic melody wherever he sees fit. Well worth hitching along for the ride it is too.

A trademark on MG's albums of yore was to include some instrumental covers of the hits of the day. That tradition continues here, most notably with a version of Gnarls Barkley's “Crazy”. There's also a mighty fine version of Lauryn Hill's “Everything Is Everything”.

Jones also makes a rare appearance on vocals on “Down In Memphis” reminiscing and celebrating his home town. Other guest vocals are taken by Sharon Jones, The National's Matt Berninger, Yim Yames of My Morning Jacket, and a somewhat misplaced Lou Reed.

If you like authentic, old school soul grooves, and let's be honest who doesn't, this would make a welcome addition to your summer soundtrack. 

Click here for Booker T's website.