Steve Cropper and Felix Cavaliere: Midnight Flyer

There are many, many things worse than a minor album from these two major rock and soul figures.

Steve Cropper and Felix Cavaliere

Midnight Flyer

Label: Stax
US Release Date: 2010-06-15
UK Release Date: 2010-06-15

The resumes of these two men are so impressive, so monumental, that they almost transcend traditional criticism. Cropper, of course, is the guitarist, producer, and songwriter behind the Stax soul sound of the 1960s and '70s. He was guitarist with Stax house band Booker T. & the M.Gs. He's produced Keith Moon and played with Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Levon Helm, Aretha Franklin, and scores of others. The man co-wrote "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" and "In the Midnight Hour". Cavaliere's name may be less well known, but he made a significant contribution to early rock 'n' roll as singer and keyboard player for the Young Rascals. Both Booker T. & the M.Gs and the Young Rascals are members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. By this point, anything either Cropper or Cavaliere does is padding on a legendary career.

That factor works both for and against Midnight Flyer. The album is Cropper and Cavaliere's second collaboration, following 2008's Nudge It Up A Notch. Both albums feature nearly all original compositions, and are played and sung with a verve and spirit that belies the fact both men are within peeking distance of 70. That they are still writing and playing music that's alive and original, rather than appealing to nostalgia or re-recording old hits, is an accomplishment in itself. In light of these fairly modest expectations, Midnight Flyer is an overwhelming success. Cropper's jazz-inspired guitar lines are as clean, tight, and smooth as ever. Cavaliere's velvety yet meaty croon and impeccable phrasing don't sound much removed from the man who belted out "Good Lovin'" and gave Van Morrison a run for his charisma on "Groovin'". Many monumental performers have pulled off late-career embarrassments, and Midnight Flyer is far from one of those.

Yet, it's far from essential, too. Aside from a couple standout tracks, it comes across as, well, padding on its creators' legendary careers. It's hard to doubt it was a lot of fun to make, and that comes across occasionally, too. Co-producing along with drummer Tom Hambridge, Cropper and Cavaliere give Midnight Flyer a crisp, meaty sound that concedes nothing to the current trend of dynamics-sapping compression. The more uptempo numbers actually work best. The galloping, chugging rhythm of the title track gives Cropper a forceful backdrop for his mean riffing, and he lays down a scorching solo, too. And is that a drum machine under the danceable breakbeat? That sure is one on "When You're With Me", giving an odd tilt to an otherwise winning bit of soul. On tracks like this, Cavaliere's voice can still make the sun rise, and the keyboards lend to the effect.

If anything on Midnight Flyer approaches essential status, it's "Early Morning Riser". An effortlessly rolling piece of old-school funk-soul, it's anchored by Cavaliere's warm organ chords and Cropper's chicken scratch guitar. Over this, Cavaliere sings "I don't listen to the news/But I always check the weather/'Cause that's something I can use/To plan our next together", and the effect is truly timeless. Some tracks, though, are merely retro in a less intentional, less-successful way. Ballads like "You Give Me All I Need" are schmaltzy in a 1980s way. The attempt at an all-out rave-up, "Move the House", features some equally dated compressed drums and Cavaliere's utterly unconvincing exhortation to "Move your arms and let me hear you shout". It's as forced as "Early Morning Riser" is natural.

In Midnight Flyer, Cropper and Cavaliere have made an album that does nothing to tarnish the legacy of the (re-activated) Stax label that has released it. It would sound great coming from a blues club or storefront on Beale Street in Memphis. You might expect a bit more from artists of this stature, but then again, their very presence makes the world a better place.





How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?


The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.


'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.


​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.


Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.


Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.


Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.


Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.


Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.


Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.