It might lack surprises, but this is solid, high-quality Booker T fare.
Lloyd Bradley 2011-05-03
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. With this set, long-term devotees will be pleased to find him back sitting at the Hammond, after picking up the guitar for his Grammy Award-winning album of 2009, Potato Hole. Indeed, The Road From Memphis turns out to be something of a circular route as, following that LP’s southern blues/rock bent – Drive-By Truckers were the backing band – he’s returned to a classic Stax-style groove. Even the contemporary twists aren’t exactly forward-looking: the album’s produced by The Roots’ ?uestlove and Rob Schnapf (Beck), it’s backed by The Roots and features Sharon Jones and Matt Berninger (The National) on vocals.
The mainstay of The Road From Memphis is its simplicity. After 50-odd years Jones knows what’s required and builds uncomplicated rhythms that set a chopping guitar on chugging drums and bass to provide a solid platform for pretty much anything he wants to do. This works best with his Hammond striding confidently on top, stopping for the all the twiddles and flourishes you’d expect, while playing of a counterpoint to the guitar or drums. Crazy, Walking Papers, The Hive and Rent Party are such sweet examples of Booker T.’s craft – it’s as if mod never went away. Everything Is Everything, The Vamp and Harlem House are so supremely (70s) funky – Dennis Coffey features on guitar – you start checking the listings for the blaxploitation film they must have come from. The vocal tracks are, mostly, no less sure of themselves and cleverly arranged so the playing never really takes a back seat. Although Yim Yames (My Morning Jacket) never quite gets to grips with what he has to do, Sharon Jones’s big voice gives a storming city tour in Down In Memphis, Lou Reed an inspired choice for The Bronx, and Booker T. himself gives a sterling performance on Down In Memphis.
The Road From Memphis hasn’t got any of the surprise factor of Potato Hole; in fact, it’s more like reacquainting yourself with an old friend. But it’s a work of such high quality it doesn’t really matter it’s nothing new.