Booker T. Jones, The Road From Memphis

Posted on May 11, 2011 by

Artist: Booker T. Jones
Title: The Road From Memphis
Label: Anti 87101
Released: May 10, 2011

Booker’s last record, Potato Hole, from two years back, did very little for me. Jones was backed on Potato Hole by the Drive-By Truckers and Neil Young. As much as I respect Neil Young and Booker, the album lacked a soul. It’s an album I tried to go back to several times that year, but found little joy in the grooves.

I was skeptical upon hearing of the release of Road To Memphis. I nearly ignored purchasing it. Odd thing about it was that I bought it on the strength of Jones’ collaborators on the new record, namely Yim Yames, Sharon Jones, Lou Reed and the Roots. The title intrigued me too. I figured if Jones is going to mention his hometown in the title, there’s going to be a groove.

And I was right!

From the opening track, “Walking Papers” I knew right away that this album is going in a totally different direction than Potato Hole. First of all, if you’re going to find a contemporary band that knows its Black music history and still keep the sound somewhat new, you employ the Roots. ?Love’s drumming still finds a deep pocket, but the added fills dip into jazz. Their strength is the Philly sound but when playing with Booker, you can sense the synergy with the power of both Memphis and Philadelphia coming through. And if that wasn’t enough, why get Detroit to represent by adding Dennis Coffey on guitar. But it’s still Booker’s organ that’s in front.

Eight of the ten songs are Jone’s originals. The two covers are interesting too. They are instrumental takes on Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and Lauren Hill’s “Everything Is Everything” with the latter working better than the former. Of the seven instrumental tracks on The Road From Memphis, the most MG-like is “The Vamp.” Bassist Owen Biddle nails the Duck Dunn bass line while Coffey chops his way through the rhythm. It’s also ?Love’s least busy drumming, where he pretty much sits in the pocket and doesn’t leave it.

Of the vocal numbers, Lou Reed, rolls through the streets of the Bronx at a pace similar to that of William DeVaughn’s “Be Thankful for What You Got.” It’s a great vehicle for Reed, the Roots and Booker T. If any track on this album could get crossover radio play from alternative to urban stations, this is the one.

The Yim Yames contribution should blare all summer from top 40 radio stations to college campuses. It’s got an early 70s good-feel groove, Yames’ and the Roots name recognition for that demographic and it is catchy as Hell.

The Road From Memphis works better than Booker’s previous LP, Potato Hole for a couple of reasons. The the originals are much better songs and his collaborators are more sympathetic to his ideas. It sounds like Booker’s vision of a new LP was realized more than somebody else’s vision for a new Booker T. Jones album.

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