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Soul Express CD Review

Booker T. Jones: Road from Memphis CD

Road from Memphis
US/UK Anti 2011

Walking Papers - Crazy - Progress The Hive - Down In Memphis - Everything Is Everything - Rent Party - Representing Memphis - The Vamp - Harlem House - The Bronx

One word to describe this album:  exceptional.  Fans of this great man's work with the M.G.s in the 1960s and 1970s will be halted in their tracks when they hear this as it is a solid, solid performance that can only be described as contemporary vintage.  The M.G.'s raw, gritty Memphis funk edge has been totally revamped for the 21st Century and it's as soulful as it is aggressive and 'in-your-face'.  Booker T. takes to his Hammond B3 Organ with ease and delivers one of THE albums of 2011.  Production is from the super-talented Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson who, you will recall gave us some blinding moments with Al Green on his "Lay It Down" set in 2008 as well as more contemporary artists such as Erykah Badu and rap group The Roots, who also provide musical accompaniment.  Also appearing on here is the legendary Dennis Coffey on guitar and my God he sounds superb...Motown's finest meets Stax's finest!

New songs and covers are the order of the day and all fit for a king.  "Walking papers" kicks off with real snare drum and passionate Hammond Organ that takes us right back to the late 1960s and the funky guitar licks courtesy of Dennis Coffey add more grit than a Council gritting lorry two days AFTER the snowstorm!  Prince once said about Larry Graham that he could never listen to Larry's tunes without making the "funky face".  You know what Prince is talking about, and you'll know what that means when you listen to this track!  Awesome, and although Gnarles Barkley's "Crazy" isn't as hot the flavour is still strong and edgy. 

"Progress" is the song that SHOULD set radio on fire, and if it were 1970 it probably would.  This is the track that first caught my attention and I have not stopped playing it.  An instant hit with me, and even my young children adored it - a song that is so positive and joyous, it lifts the spirits, enlarges your soul and makes you sing along.  Such an amazing track, it really is, and vocalist Yim Yames of the group My Morning Jacket is PERFECT on here.  Following this gorgeous summer song is a seriously edgy song called "The Hive" that screams to be played LOUD!  the killer bassline rumbles without mercy, the Hammond Organ raw and unrefined and the drumming straight out of the 60s and tough enough to get a few 80s Hip Hop heads scrambling to snatch the drum loops.  This is AWESOME.

"Down In Memphis" has Booker T on vocals and we can immediately tell it's him.  Again, fans of Stax and funky beats will gorge on this with relish.  This is what R&B Music is about, and a lesson to those who can do nought but program a computer and shove some pretty squeaky teenager in front of a mic.  Talking of which, Lauren Hill, is no musical friend of mine but Booker's version of "Everything Is Everything" is superb - and, without you needing to be told, a LOT better.  "Representing Memphis" featuring Sharon Jones (minus her Dap Kings!) and Matt Berninger on vocals was, should I have required a second reason, the song that sold me this album.  Summery, soulful and totally what we want and need for this sad, new soulless age.  Both "The Vamp" and "Harlem House" exist as tough, gritty slices of Memphis fare...and the set ends on a very high note with the relaxed, paced and slightly bluesy Steve Cropper-like guitar work courtesy of none other than the legendary Rock Icon Lou Reed, who, incidentally adds his vocals.  Lou actually sounds great on here and sounds as fresh today as he always has.  He's enjoying this foray into R&B and it shows!  All in all, along with Electric Empire, one of THE sets of 2011.  A mandatory purchase for any soul fan worth their salt.

Barry Towler

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