Booker T. Jones: The Road From Memphis
Stax organist proves he still has a ‘Melting Pot’ up his sleeve
While laying down the groundwork on Sam & Dave and Otis Redding records, the legendary Stax graduate Booker T. Jones was also pumping out a number of soulful R&B grooves, mostly instrumentals, through his Booker T & the MGs organization. Jones, a long lost artifact from the Sixties, hasn’t gone totally unnoticed after grabbing a record deal with Anti- and releasing Potato Hole, to moderate acclaim, in 2009. His follow-up, The Road From Memphis, seems to be what the doctor ordered, placing the soulman in good company even if it feels all too familiar. ?uestlove and his Roots lend a hand to the entire production of the album, with Daptones’ engineer Gabriel Roth assisting. That nostalgic atmosphere, peppered with funky percussion and enough hip-hop swagger to sample for decades, provides enough room for Jones to kick out his latest creations (writing or co-writing eight of the album’s ten tracks). Two covers are expected to get attention – Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and Lauryn Hill’s “Everything Is Everything,” but the legendary organist does a remarkable job in putting his new pieces in the forefront. “Rent Party” sounds like a bonus cut to John Legend’s Wake Up!; “The Hive” is embellished with U2-esque guitar arpeggios; “Harlem House” kicks out a slice of James Brown funk; and the album opener “Walking Papers” sounds like Jones reuniting with the Bar-Kays. What separates The Road From Memphis from Potato Hole, besides its obvious respects to Jones’ old campground of Memphis, is the bold undertaking of pushing past the comforts of an instrumental funk disc to more of a vocal presentation. Jones himself can be heard singing, probably for the first time in his career, on an Al Green-sounding “Down In Memphis.” On “Progress, ” The National’s Yin Yames is challenged to channel the Chicago doo-wop soul energies of The Dells and The Chi-Lites, creating one of the disc’s magical moments. Sharon Jones shows up on “Representing Memphis” and Lou Reed leaves behind his dark, sordid Gil Scott-Heron on “The Bronx.” If The Road From Memphis was titled a Booker T & the MGs, it wouldn’t be hard to believe. The Roots execute their smokey soul better than most session bands, as if they were honorary members of the Stax regime. Maybe they’re brothers from another mother.
J MATTHEW COBB
- Release Date: 10 May 2011
- Label: Anti-
- Producers: Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, Rob Schnapf, Booker T. Jones
- Spin This: “Progress,” “Walking Papers,” “Rent Party” “Everything Is Everything”