Release Date: May 10, 2011
Record label: Epitaph
Genre(s): R&B, Soul
Who could have ever thought that a cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and a cover of Lauryn Hill’s “Everything Is Everything” would be the two weak spots on an album? Certainly not ?uestlove or Booker T. Jones. Ironically enough, though, that’s the case on Jones’ latest effort, The Road From Memphis, an album that sees the legendary piano player/organist/conveyer of everything “cool” team with the Roots and a few other friends for a string of songs that feel as inspired as anything the former leader of the MGs has ever done.
Booker T. Jones could have gone in any direction after 2009's Grammy-winning Potato Hole. He's traveled the musical map with his ubiquitous MG's as recent reissues -- 1977's disco-centric Universal Language and the 1970 classic McLemore Avenue, a collection of Beatles covers -- attest. On The Road from Memphis, Jones and his B-3 choose to do some non-linear musical storytelling: in the title lies the key.
I know it’s hard to do, but admit it: those Booker T. & the MG’s records are kinda corny. Yes, yes, they’re fun, they’re groovy, they’re funky, and they’re slathered with so much Memphis-style sauce, it wouldn’t be hard to mistake ‘em for a dish at Payne’s BBQ. But still, those Beatles covers, that Rascals cover, hell, even “Green Onions” … they’re all just kinda corny in a lighthearted, we-cracked-the-bottle-open-and-this-is-what-poured-out kinda way.
This kind of thing needs to happen more often: Established, middle-aged visionary musicians and producers revitalizing the careers of senior, seemingly past-their-prime performers who contributed oodles to a genre the middle-aged visionary appreciates deeply, thereby introducing them to a new generation of listeners who will then… At least, that’s the idea. Sometimes it works, like Jack White helming Loretta Lynn’s gorgeous 2004 record Van Lear Rose. Sometimes it doesn’t, like when Rick Rubin gave it an admirable shot with Neil Diamond for 2005’s 12 Songs and folks focused more on its inclusion of Sony’s infamous rootkit software than its music.
Booker T. Jones brings his signature Hammond B3 sound into another collaborative effort, this time with members of the Roots, guitarist Dennis Coffey and guest vocalists including Sharon Jones, Matt Berninger and Lou Reed. The mostly instrumental album kicks off with Booker T.'s organ parts boomeranging off ?uestlove's exclamation-mark drum parts on Walking Papers.
It might lack surprises, but this is solid, high-quality Booker T fare. Lloyd Bradley 2011 As long as there’s been soul music there’s been Booker T. Jones. A session saxophonist on Stax Records while it was still Satellite Records at age 16 in 1960, then putting together The MGs, who went on to become Stax’s house band, defining the label’s almost syncopated sound.