Music

Booker T. Jones: The Road From Memphis

Even at 66 years old, Booker T. has more soulful funk in his blood than three Chris Browns and a couple Keyshia Coles.


Booker T. Jones

The Road From Memphis

Label: Anti-/Epitaph
US Release Date: 2011-05-10
UK Release Date: 2011-05-09
Amazon
iTunes

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.

One would have to imagine combining the man at the front of quite possibly the most legendary house band a studio has ever seen with the man at the front of the quintessential house band of the last 20 years would warrant only triumphant results. And, as you make your way through the 11 tracks that paint The Road, it probably goes without saying that such an assumption would be undoubtedly correct.

From the album’s opening, get-up-out-of-your-seat-funky original, “Walking Papers”, to the final note of the disc’s last track, the Lou Reed-sung “The Bronx”, The Road From Memphis is simply just better than your favorite contemporary rhythm & blues album. And it’s not just because we have a legend on our hands here. Come on, now. You’d have to be insane to not consider the amount of effort ?uest and his production team put into making sure this sounded authentic enough to be considered amongst anything that came from McLemore Avenue, let alone something that came from Booker T. himself.

But before moving forward, one cannot merely ignore the two slip-ups that make the difference between this being a remarkably great album and just a mere great album. So, what’s the problem? Well, while both “Crazy” and “Everything Is Everything” are two highly acclaimed songs, Jones’ instrumental take on those particular tracks just feels like a low-rent move. Yes, ?uest does his best to spice up the drum parts, and yes, the rest of the musicians featured achieve their jobs at a more-than-competent level while sometimes even improving the original compositions. But when surrounded by mostly original material, both tracks come across as more filler than fun, two mild stains on an otherwise squeaky-clean effort.

And it’s a shame, really. Jones should know by now that relying on himself is his best option. For instance, while the living legend brought in others for vocal tracks that appear on The Road, quite clearly the best vocal performance that appears is his, which is featured on “Down in Memphis”, an ode to the town he spent so many years sweating it out on the music scene. The groovy drums and soulful organ combine here for an epic success that wouldn’t have been nearly as victorious had Jones outsourced the singing. His baritone, aged voice sounds precisely like something that came straight from a 1968 Stax Records release.

That said, it isn’t as though his other guests don’t bring something to the table. My Morning Jacket’s Yim Yames makes an appearance that is surprisingly effective on the inspiring Motown-like “Progress”. The aforementioned Reed ads great atmosphere on an already moody tune, proving “The Bronx” is a great way to end the album. And the National’s Matt Berninger and Sharon Jones combine for an unlikely, yet somewhat inspiring dual vocal part on “Representing Memphis”, a song that doesn’t sound a year younger than 1971.

The real winner here, though, is Jones himself. Even without the help of the Roots or any of his guest singers, it's clear this is a man who has an immeasurable amount of soul music running through his veins. “The Hive”, for example, is James Brown meets the Meters funk, an impossible task that the keyboardist pulls off with ease, while “Rent Party” recalls a modern day Stevie Wonder as the instrumental track oddly sounds a lot like Wonder’s somewhat obscure 2005 single, “What the Fuss”.

Then again, none of this should be a surprise. This is the guy who helped write such classics as “Green Onions” and “Time Is Tight” after all. Still -- to think the 66-year-old can continue to produce such unparalleled authentic, indescribably funky and unprecedented soulful rhythm and blues music in such a fashion is nothing short of astonishing. All told, The Road From Memphis is enough to make Jim Stewart, Estelle Axton, Duck Dunn, Rufus Thomas, Eddie Floyd, Johnnie Taylor, Isaac Hayes and any other member of the Stax family smile wherever they are.

Well, smile, and dance, that is.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Television

'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.

Music

Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.

Reviews

Country Music's John Anderson Counts the 'Years'

John Anderson, who continues to possess one of country music's all-time great voices, contemplates life, love, mortality, and resilience on Years.

Music

Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.

Books

Wendy Carlos: Musical Pioneer, Reluctant Icon

Amanda Sewell's vastly informative new biography on musical trailblazer Wendy Carlos is both reverent and honest.

Music

British Folk Duo Orpine Share Blissful New Song "Two Rivers" (premiere)

Orpine's "Two Rivers" is a gently undulating, understated folk song that provides a welcome reminder of the enduring majesty of nature.

Music

Blesson Roy Gets "In Tune With the Moon" (premiere)

Terry Borden was a member of slowcore pioneers Idaho and a member of Pete Yorn's band. Now he readies the debut of Blesson Roy and shares "In Tune With the Moon".

Books

In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.

Music

Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.

Film

Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.

Music

Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.

Music

Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.

Music

'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.

Music

Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.

Television

From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.

Music

Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.

Music

Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".

Games

On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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