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Booker T. & The M.G.s


Green Onions (1962) / Soul Dressing (1965) / And Now! (1966) / In the Christmas Spirit (1966) / Hip Hug-Her (1967) / Back to Back (1967) / Doin' Our Thing (1968) / Soul Limbo (1968)

Green Onions (1962)

Album Score: 12

Booker T. & The M.G.s might not have come up with rock 'n' roll's most famous albums, but they started a revolution. Everybody knows the title track by heart, even if they don't recognize it by name. Go on YouTube and listen to it—you've heard it before. If you've ever seen a film that takes place in the '60s, then that's almost always what seems to be going on in the background. Nostalgia filmmakers don't just love that song because everyone who actually lived in the '60s remember it, but also because it's quite atmospheric and it's an instrumental. Why “Green Onions” and movies seem like they were made for each other. The one drawback of that piece being so popular over the years is that people have grown so used to it that they probably forgot how positively earth-shattering that song was. Booker T. & The M.G.s have a sound that's been said to turn “goat piss into gasoline.” That statement will probably make sense once you sit down and listen to it. And I mean without the distraction of movies!

Some might wonder why these guys didn't have a singer. But once you give this record a spin, I hope you'll realize that it wasn't because they didn't have anyone good turn up at the auditions! These four guys are so good at their instruments that you'd have to be some kind of asshole to think they needed a singer. Easily the most interesting “factoid” about these guys was that this was an interracial band back in 1962. Two members were black and two members were white That wasn't just waaaaay before The Dave Matthews Band, but it was even before Martin Luther King, Jr. lead the March on Washington. However, taking just one listen to this album, isn't it obvious that black people and white people were destined to get along with each other, after all? Don't you hear those amazing rhythms that black drummer Al Jackson and white bassist Lewie Steinberg concoct together? ...And organist Booker T. and lead guitarist Steve Cropper play off of each other in amazing ways. After a moment of hearing the “conversations” the organist has with the guitarist, it's clear that a lead singer only would have gotten in the way!

I do know that The Beatles were huge fans of these guys, and it's been said that the idea of a melodic bass originated here. In early rock 'n' roll, the bass guitarist was easily the lamest member of the band, because he usually just played ploddy whole notes or half notes while all the other guys got all the action. Not here. Lewie Steinberg always manages to find a bass-groove that's equally as catchy as the song's main riffs. Al Jackson, otherwise known as The Human Timekeeper, not only earns that nickname, but he also finds the time to insert some of the tightest, most ear-dazzling fills that I ever would've deemed imaginable. The man is good both in the fast paced songs (“I Got a Woman”) in which he gets to exercise his exceptional speed, as he is in the slower songs (“Comin' Home Baby”) where his drumming becomes an integral part of the song's texture.

The title track was an original composition, and so was its direct but obviously inferior sequel “Mo' Onions,” but these guys' actually specialized in covers. It might be easy to look down upon a covers band, but hearing how they radically reinvent (and in most cases, improve) those songs, they become as fresh as ever. In particular, there's a snappy and maniacal reworking of Ray Charles' “I Got a Woman,” which for my money is miles better than the original. The most famous song they cover is “Twist and Shout.” I doubt seriously the people who originally wrote that song could ever have imagined someone coming along and inserting all these dazzling instrumental fills in it!

Now, I've been doing a lot of gushing over this album, and I'll have to backpedal some of that slightly. While this album has a fantastic beginning, it definitely plateaus by the middle. I'll smack around anyone who would dub the title track “generic '60s dance music,” but I wouldn't raise much of a frenzy over someone applying that label to songs like “You Can't Sit Down.” Now, electric guitar and keyboard players from all walks of life are still going to positively drool over the last half of this album, but it's a little too easy for the rest of us to tone out that stuff. Especially since they put a bunch of slow songs in the middle of this album, one right after another, which gets a bit cumbersome.

The last half of the album, by itself, would be an 11, but the powerhouse of the songs that open the album are what turns Green Onions into a mightily strong 12. If you decide to give it a whirl, I hope you'll discover that it's quite a bit more than '60s instrumental dance music. (And I'd better not catch any of you calling it “elevator music.” I've seen that written before on the Internet, which resulted in me having to give my computer monitor the middle finger. Surely, my computer monitor doesn't deserve such abuse over those dumb, thoughtless comments.)

Read the track reviews:
Green Onions

Soul Dressing (1965)

Album Score: 12

The first question that should be on everyone's mind when it comes to Booker T. & The M.G.s sophomore album, Soul Dressing is why the heck did it take them three years to come up with it? ...After all three years was practically an eternity in the days of early pop-rock. Only God can tell me how many bands were born and subsequently died in that period of time, and I don't think he cares. ...Ultimately, the answer to that burning question is that we shouldn't think of early '60s bands as album-oriented. Bands didn't start becoming album-oriented until a few years later. Naturally, Booker T. & The M.G.s were still active all those years not only acting as the backing band to legendary people like Otis Redding and ; they were just predominately singles oriented. (The Yardbirds are perhaps the most famous example of a singles-oriented band.) Thus, this isn't so much an “album” but rather a compilation of their singles from 1963-1965.

One huge thing Soul Dressing has over Green Onions is that it has far more of a concentration of tight and danceable songs. If you played both albums back-to-back at a '60s dance party (if people even have those), I'd imagine you'll get the strongest overall reaction from Soul Dressing. However, one thing that Soul Dressing doesn't have is a song quite like “Green Onions,” which has managed to reverberate through the ages. I mean, I like some songs here quite a lot, but there's nothing here that makes quite the same imprint on you.

“Tic-Tac-Toe” at least gets an honorable mention, though. I saw a YouTube video of a bunch of '60s kids dancing to it in black-and-white, and it looked convincing enough! What's really nice about Booker T. & The M.G.s records is that their music is great on two levels. Firstly, if you want something to dance to, these guys know how to create a rhythm. Secondly, if you don't want to dance but would rather sit down and listen to something with headphones on, you'll find plenty of interesting things to soak up. If you're a budding drummer, bass player, keyboardist or electric guitar player, you might even want to arm yourself with a notepad and pen. Holy cow, that bass groove is smokin', isn't it? But you can also listen to Booker T. fill it up with some of the most amazing electric organ fills imaginable, and Steve Cropper has a chance to respond to that with an especially enjoyable nimble-fingered electric guitar solo in the middle. Hearing these guys play off each other, I have to wonder if they ever actually talked to one another in the studio... They could get by simply with noodling at each other during one of their sessions.

Lewie Steinberg comes up with this thumpy-growly bass guitar sound for “Big Train” and “Chinese Checkers,” which is a sound I'm sure inspired many-a-budding rock 'n' roll bassist back in the day! How would heavy metal have ever been formed if people didn't play around with their amplification like that in the early '60s? ...It also kind of freaks me out to hear it, but the way Booker T. altered his organ to make wavy sounds in “Plum Nellie” makes it sound a lot like a synthesizer from the mid '70s. That's such a cool sound! Another hopelessly cool sound: that echoey drumming on the title track. I only wish I had Al Jackson playing that on video so that I could examine it in slow-motion. People make drum sounds like that with machines nowadays, but that's actually HIM doing that live! And drum machines never really seem to get close to matching that sound anyway.

I haven't mentioned yet that, unlike Green Onions, nearly all of these songs are originals. That's rather shocking to me, because Booker T. & The M.G.s would become predominantly a covers band later in the '60s. ...But, ya know? These so-called originals might as well have been covers anyway, seeing that they're all based on very generic R&B chord progressions! I usually hate hearing such overused and tired progressions, but as I said in my Green Onions review, it's how these guys play over them that makes it all seem so fresh. The album's lone cover is “Mercy Mercy,” which you'll probably recognize from that kick-ass version The Rolling Stones did on Out of Our Heads. That's another good one to listen to just to hear how many notes Booker T. was able to jam-pack into his organ in what was originally an extremely simple vocal melody. “Jelly Bread” is obviously a clone of “Green Onions” since it uses the exact same riff, but listening to all those wild, inventive, and stinging instrumental solos strewn throughout it, it shows us that there was life in that old thing yet.

For whatever reason, this is actually the third time I've reviewed this album. The first time, I disliked it. The second time, I liked it. This third time, I LOVVVVVVVVVVVVVED it. ...Is there a ceiling? Am I going to want to marry it next? This is the first time in my illustrious music reviewing career, however, I've ever considered the notion that this album might actually be better than that mega-classic Green Onions. I mean, this is a near-13 whereas the previous album was just a strong 12. All the same, for all you hopeless '60s R&B fools, this is something you've got to hear.

Read the track reviews:
Soul Dressing

And Now! (1966)

Album Score: 11

There are certainly not as many cool textures and ideas in here, which were ever-present staples throughout Soul Dressing and Green Onions. If nothing else, Booker T. & The M.G.s' third album shows that the band has stagnated, which is probably why these guys can never seem to translate the wide respect they get from rock 'n' roll musicians to selling a terrible amount of albums. Do you know of anyone who owns everything Booker T. & The M.G.s have ever done? Do you even know anyone who wants to? ...But at least I can say that they're all for sale, which is something. If nothing else buy their first two albums to survey this group, and then start getting the others if you discover they float your boat.

Unlike Soul Dressing, which consisted only of originals, these are predominantly covers—a few of which have a sort of cutesy gleam to them. “Working in the Coal Mine” is an example of that; it's a relatively passive version of a song that surely everybody knows by heart. It features Booker T.'s bubbly and bright organ with Steve Cropper coming in with a flashy guitar solo. Despite its cutsiness, it's nothing less than a skillful piece that of course benefits from its catchy-as-hell source material.

The bass guitarist for this group was no longer Lewie Steinberg, but Donald “Duck” Dunn. (Dunn also played in some tracks in Soul Dressing, but I wasn't aware of that until now! I'm too lazy to go back in that album review and try to figure out which bassist was which. ...You know, bassists all sound alike to me.) Dunn is as respected as Steinberg, if not more so, but the bass throughout this album doesn't amaze me nearly as much as it did their previous two. On that note, I also don't seem to have a whole lot to gush over in regards to the drumming, either. Al Jackson, Jr. could still keep the time like an atomic clock, but he's engaging in far fewer ear-popping rhythmic experiments than he did in Soul Dressing. Maybe it could be that these songs aren't as menacing as they seemed to be in previous albums.

But there are at least three songs here that do knock my socks off. “One Mint Julep” is one of them and a worthy nod to their former glories. It shows them channeling the same riff and atmosphere that they had originated in “Green Onions.” The second bit of greatness is their cover of “In the Midnight Hour,” whose original I'm sure we all recognize from Wilson Pickett (if you're a '70s new-wave nerd, then you'll at least remember the cover by Roxy Music). “No Matter What Shape” could be my favorite song of the album; the rhythm guitar that stabs you like little daggers while Booker T. gives us a fluid-like lead organ solo. It's too laid back to make you want to get on the dance floor and start waving around your appendages with it, but if you take it along with you for a walk, it'll probably make you want to move with a stylish swagger.

And even though the other songs don't have that sock-knocking quality to them, I find them all to be quite nice. The low-key and piano-led “My Sweet Potato” opens the album and shows right there that these guys seemed interested in streamlining their music for an older crowd. ...Nothing against old people, but they like to dance with their spouses while balancing glasses of champagne in their hands. Teenagers like to move their bodies around in jittery convulsions. I have more in common with old people than teenagers (a fact that was probably true even when I was a teenager), but I'll take teenage dance music over old people dance music any day of the week. However, I suppose a young person could dance to “Jericho” if he or she chooses. (It's not as piping hot as “Tic-Tac-Toe” was, unfortunately!) Those of us listening at home with our headphones on can be dazzled with all the excellent organ fills are excellent and the sparkly lead guitar.

In conclusion, And Now! is as respectable as ever, and everything on it is enjoyable to listen to. But it also unfortunately marks the first time in their discography that they stopped wholly impressing me. These guys' records sold quite well back in their day, but I'd say there's a pretty good reason these guys don't continue to sell their records as hotly as other bands from the era like The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. Those behemoths of classic rock always seemed to inject a bit of freshness into their style with each release. This Booker T. & The M.G.s, on the other hand, let a bit of stale air waft into the recording studio.

Read the track reviews:
And Now!

In the Christmas Spirit (1966)

Album Score: 11

Merrrrrrrrry Christmas, universe! The month I'm writing this review might happen to be June, but isn't anytime the best time to celebrate the yearly coming of St. Nick by listening to Christmas music? ...Oh I'm being facetious, aren't I? When I started writing album reviews, I made it a policy to never review Christmas albums. My reasoning was that they're usually forgettable cash-ins, and they tend to be filled with songs that I—and a whole lotta other people in the world—are sick to death of hearing. Really, the only way we can tolerate them is if somebody spikes the eggnog.

But maybe Booker T. & The M.G.s take on it might yield positive results? After all, they were an instrumental covers band. They thrived on taking old classics and melding them into something uniquely themselves. Who says they wouldn't do the same for Christmas jingles? Perhaps most importantly, an instrumental band means that there are no lyrics, which can only be a boon. By golly, there's a reason I used to hear so many vulgar versions of “Jingle Bells” circulating around my elementary school playground all those years ago. The real lyrics are crap. It wasn't until the version that questions Batman's hygiene and automobile habits came along until it gave us something meaningful to think about. (How do you think you would smell running around in Gotham City in Summer tightly encased in plastic?)

In its place of the usually-lame Christmas carol lyrics, we have something much cooler: Booker T. noodling around with his electric organ. Could he have been playing these songs with sunglasses on? Just as he did in all their previous albums, he has a tendency to put so many FILLS in there that I wonder how on Earth he ever found the time to play the melody. And since so many of these songs are widely known, maybe this is a better place than ever just to see how well he does it?

One of the worst songs that was ever written was “White Christmas.” I mean, I liked it just fine when I was nine, but these days the horrid thing became so overplayed that whenever I hear it it makes me want to choke a kitten. (People who wish for White Christmases don't stop to think about what it would do for traffic. People die in snowy conditions, you heartless wretches.) But Booker T. & The M.G.s somehow make it cool again. First of all, the bass-line Duck Dunn brings us there is fantastic—it's quite simple, but it POPS out at you, like all great bass-lines in the world should. Booker T. takes out a real piano and completely jazzes up the melody. All in all, this is far cooler than the original song deserved. Bing Crosby can choke on his pipe for all I care; his original version doesn't even come close. (Well, you'll have to take my word for it—I'm a 90-percent pure rock 'n' roll fan. The other 10 percent of me is still left-over from high school when I only like show tunes.)

I like that some of these songs are much more laid-back and subdued than you'd expect them to be. “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is usually cheery and fast-paced, but in this version, Old St. Nick is cruising around in his sleigh donning sunglasses and slowly sipping martinis. “Winter Wonderland” (one of the few Christmas carols I actually like) is turned into one of the bubbliest, laid back soul songs thanks to Booker T's jazzy fills and equally thanks Steve Cropper's funk-ridden electric guitar playing.

Many of the other songs don't excite me a whole lot. I would even go so far as to say that they completely dropped the ball with “We Three Kings” and “Silent Night.” Those are dreary old things must've stemmed from the Medieval ages, and … ergh … they're still dreary. Booker T. lays off the soulful fills and more or less plays them straight while Cropper plays boringly simple arpeggios with his guitars. Also, “The Christmas Song” (otherwise known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”) is given ho-hum treatment, which is a shame because that's one of the few overplayed Christmas songs I can tolerate. Perhaps most appropriate for these guys were a slight smattering of contemporary R&B Christmas tunes. For instance, Steve Cropper plays some of the most amazing slow-blues guitar for “Merry Christmas Baby” that I've ever heard. Maybe there's a good reason that guy's held in such high regards by his fellow guitarists?

So anyway, if you own one Christmas album, own the one Elvis did in 1957! (I mean, say what you want about how terrible Christmas albums are, but Elvis did that one while he was at the peak of his COOL, and it shows. I'm also almost positive that Booker T. & The M.G.s were modeling this album off of that, anyhow.) However, if you already have the Elvis album and you're a glutton for more Yuletide punishment, then you have my permission to buy this one, too. But that's all. Nothing else.

Read the track reviews:
In the Christmas Spirit

Hip Hug-Her (1967)

Album Score: 13

First of all, I love that album cover! I don't know who that girl is (and Wikipedia apparently doesn't know either), but I've had a massive crush on her for the last eight years and counting. She might have been born roughly 35 years before me, but as long as she didn't die of some sort of overdose in the early '80s, she's still gotta be somewhere. Hey there, girl on the cover: If you're reading this,when can we meet? I know you think you can't meet me, because you're old and wrinkly now, but please don't let that be a hindrance. For I am not nearly as smooth and sexy as I come off in my music reviews. (You guys picture me looking exactly like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, right? ...If not, could you please do me a favor and start picturing me looking exactly like Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Thank you.)

Believe me when I say, this is one of those great rock 'n' roll records that everybody should own in their collection. Some might have been forgoing buying albums from these guys, because they're an instrumental group. But once you take a listen to this album, you'd have to be some kind of zombie not to think that the instrumental quality of it was nothing less than an asset. As I've been saying in my previous reviews of theirs, Booker T. & The M.G.s were the best instrumentalists of the business, and a lousy singer would have only gotten in the way. Seriously, if Tina Turner started wailing over these songs, I'd tell her to shut her yapper.

You might remember me going off on a bit of a tangent in my review of And Now! complaining that the band had stagnated. I stand by that 100 percent, because that was an underwhelming record. However, by the time they released this album, they'd briefly reversed that trend and created something that sounds unlike their others. I mean, these songs positively glisten. This also shows that Booker T. & The M.G.s were actually willing to evolve with the times; this shows them being strongly influenced by the British Invasion. More specifically Mod music. (We Americans may have won the Revolution, but the British got us in the end, didn't they? Even the down-home, southern-soul guys weren't safe from its influence.) But the change was good—these guys had already done that hard 'n' smoky R&B flavor in their earlier albums. Why not dazzle us, next? If I were to say this album were illustrating anything, it would be a fashion show or a spy flick.

If you want to hear first hand how pristine these guys could get, you needn't look any further than the opening number, the title track. Who says that ultra-polished instrumental music couldn't also have a ton of attitude? The rhythm section is as smooth and crunchy as can be, but don't you also love that snarl that you hear in that bass guitar? Man... And you'll also hear some of the coolest instrumental solos ever in rock 'n' roll. Booker T. is playing a very clean-sounding Hammond organ while Cropper's lead guitar sounds like it's made out of crystal. But don't let its clean-cut appearance fool you! There are more goodies to be had in this album. If, for some reason, you decide you don't have time to listen to the whole thing, you'll have to take a listen to the danceable “Soul Sanction” and “Get Ready,” the atmospheric “Slim Jenkins' Joint,” “Booker's Notion” the only song here that features a piano, and “Sunny,” which sounds exactly like its song title should make you think it sounds.

Oh, but this isn't a perfect album—not even by a long shot. I dubbed it a mighty 13 in my infinite wisdom, but it's a rather weak one! Booker T. & The M.G.s might have had a rhythm section that could keep perfect time and lead instrumentalists who could come up with beautiful and attitude-ridden solos in an amazingly consistent manner, but this album does seem to drop off by the end. Songs like “Groovin'” and “Pigmy” are entertaining for sure but they're also kind of ho-hum; the rhythm sections aren't nearly as crunchy and those more laid-back lead melodies fail to inspire like some of these other songs do. It seems like the guys had adopted a kind of a been-there-done-that attitude when they played them. But I like those songs anyway, and I like this whole album. It's one of the coolest things you'll ever hear. That's my guarantee.

Read the track reviews:
Hip Hug-Her

Back to Back (1967)
Released by Booker T. & The M.G.s and The Mar-Keys

Track Listing:
Green Onions A- / Red Beans and Rice A- / Tic-Tac-Toe A / Hip Hug-Her A / Philly Dog A- / Grab This Thing B+ / Last Night A- / Gimme Some Loving A / Booker-Loo A / Outrage A-

My gut reaction to this live album before listening to it was “Why did the great Booker T. & The M.G.s have to share the stage with The Mar-Keys, some band I've never heard of?” But then I discovered that The Mar-Keys consisted of every member Booker T. & The M.G.s plus a horn section. ...They also toured and released albums concurrently in the '60s, which I suppose means I have many more albums to listen to! (The Mar-Keys were Stax Record's prime backing band, and they even predated Booker T. & The M.G.s.)

The recording quality is pretty exceptional for a '60s live album. Some of it comes across so clearly I'm wondering if they were secretly studio cuts. (Let's give it the benefit of the doubt!) Compare that to the shoddy The Rolling Stones' live album from 1966 Got Live if You Want It where you couldn't really hear all the instruments come through clearly, and the band was constantly bombarded with a flurry of screaming noises. In this album, the drums are crunchy, the bass is like crystal, the lead guitar rings crisply, and the organ sounds like running water. They also have an older core audience, who I imagine wearing sunglasses, sipping martinis, and having cigarettes balancing off their bottom lips. (I obviously wasn't around in the '60s, and so my impression of the era comes strictly from the movies.)

Without knowing for certain, I'm suspicious these live songs were recorded at separate events. Notably, the cheering noises change suddenly in the transition between “Hip Hug-Her” and “Philly Dog.” The former is a Booker T. & The M.G.s track and the latter is by The Mar-Keys. I'd even assume they were separate tours, as I'd imagine it'd be awkward having an announcer introducing another band only to see the same guys walk out on stage. (I'm hoping a cool cat who is into these albums far more than I am would be able to confirm or deny this!)

On the spectrum of live albums, this is definitely on the higher end of things. That's in spite of the fact that Booker T. & The M.G.s were at their best in the studio where they thrived on the crispness of their instruments. It's also in spite of the fact that I'm not so into this version of “Green Onions,” which loses quite a bit of its mystique in the live setting. “Outrage” also comes across as a bit hazier than I would have liked. However, I seem to have an especially fun time with “Hip Hug-Her,” and judging by an especially excited reaction it gets from the audience, it must've been the song of the hour. “Tic-Tac-Toe” is also a highlight for me, which thrives off its huge energy, and I especially like Steve Cropper's nimbly fingered electric guitar solo.

Maybe the nicest thing about this live album is that there are only four Booker T. & The M.G.s songs I've heard before. The other three are new: there's a really cool cover of The Spencer Davis Group's “Gimme Some Lovin'”; the mid paced and shuffly “Booker-Loo” that reeks of coolness; and “Red Beans and Rice,” which features Booker T. mashing a single note on his keyboard as rapidly as he could. And that was mindbogglingly rapid. I mean, video game dorks from the early '90s zapping aliens had nothing on him.

I've never listened to a Mar-Keys studio album, but their three songs are pretty much the same thing as Booker T. & The M.G.s except with a blaring horn section. The horns are usually reduced to playing a repetitive note in the groove, which seems like they're yelling over the other instruments. I don't think was very polite of them, but I suppose being trumpets and such they couldn't help it. 12/15

Doin' Our Thing (1968)

Track Listing:
I Can Dig It B / Expressway (To Your Heart) B+ / Doin' Our Thing A- / You Don't Love Me A- / Never My Love A- / The Exodus Song B / The Beat Goes On B / Ode to Billie Joe B / Blue on Green A- / You Keep Me Hanging On B / Let's Go Get Stoned B+

The problem with this Booker T. & The M.G.s album is that it lacks the bubbly atmosphere of Hip Hug-Her, and it also lacks that old smokey energy of Green Onions. This album, for the very first time in their history, shows Booker T. & The M.G.s in a complacent state. There are only three originals here, and while they show considerable skill, they don't add anything to their legacy. Of course this band has been known to make some pretty exciting reinventions of popular songs of the era, and most of these covers I find perfectly enjoyable. However, it does seem to me like these guys were just phoning it in. (I've heard that this album was recorded in a single day. This might explain it why this material seems far less inspired than I'm used to from Booker T. & The M.G.s.)

The title track, an original, is easily one of the best things here. It's a super laid-back piece with a quiet groove, and the listener isn't supposed to do anything else but sit back and soak up the instrumental solos. That is, the casual back-and-forth small-talk from Booker T.'s organ and Steve Cropper's electric guitar. (Aren't these instrumental albums more fun when it sounds like the solos are having a conversation?) It's also for this reason that I enjoy the cover of Willie Cobb's “You Don't Love Me,” which is supremely laid back, and all I want to do is listen to that organ and guitar talk.

One song that I don't think quite makes it is the album opener, an original called “I Can Dig It.” Which is a poppy, upbeat tune with some nice cool noodling from Booker T. However, I don't really detect a memorable melody in there nor do I find his noodling as dazzling as I have in the past. I like their third original, “Blue on Green,” better, which mid-tempo, happy, and--my favorite thing--has a pretty nifty walking bass-line from Duck Dunn. It sounds like they're having a walk in a sunny park, and there is Booker T's organ and Cropper's guitar pleasantly shooting the breeze.

Their cover of Sonny and Cher's “The Beat Goes On” was an unusual choice, and truth be told it's not my favorite thing here... but I like that I'm hearing this really dark, stinging tone that Duck Dunn adapted for his bass... and of course Cropper comes in with a solid solo performance. Another interesting cover was The Association's “Never My Love.” It's not particularly explosive, but I like that these guys kept intact the bright atmosphere of the original. Cropper and Booker T. play its beautiful melody quite faithfully, but--whenever they have time--they'll throw in some fancy fills here and there. It's always entertaining to hear them do that!

“Ode to Billie Joe” is a good listen and very laid back, but it does seem like Booker T. was starting to nod off a bit, which is disappointing. “You Keep Me Hanging On” is a cover of the song by The Supremes, and they generate a bit of tenseness there. Although when you compare it to the original, it's pretty obvious they were still making a laid-back version of it! I do like hearing another one of Booker T.'s loose organ solos, once again, being rife with his skillful fills. (Although listening to many, many Booker T. & The M.G.s songs in a row, I start to take his instrumental playing for granted. ...Not that I wanted him to learn some new tricks, but I suppose this is just the hazard of never changing your style.) The album closes with a cover of Ray Charles' “Let's Get Stoned,” which... er... The All-Music Guide called a highlight, but I'm not particularly feeling it. The atmosphere is relaxed and Booker T.'s organ solo is quite bluesy.

Needless to say, Booker T. & The M.G.s were one of the most important bands of rock 'n' roll (despite not being one of the most listened-to bands), and many of their earlier albums make an absolutely essential listen! While Doin' Our Thing makes an all-in-all good listen, I think it's safe to say that it shows this group well off their peak. However, if you've enjoyed their earlier albums and you thirst for more, then scout it out. This is a strong 10/15. If you have a special thing for breezy instrumental blues music (which I don't particularly), feel free to raise that to an 11. Or higher.

Soul Limbo (1968)

Track Listing:
Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy A- / La La Means I Love You B+ / Hang 'Em High A / Willow Weep For Me B / Over Easy B+ / Soul Limbo A / Eleanor Rigby A- / Heads or Tails A / (Sweet, Sweet, Baby) Since You've Been Gone B+ / Born Under a Bad Sign A- / Foxy Lady B+

Booker T. and the M.G.s' previous album, Doin' Our Thing, was rushed, and the effort suffered as a result. This follow-up album shows much more careful planning and precision, and they reaped the benefits for it. This is widely considered one of the group's finer releases. Although one thing's fairly obvious to me: They're still not even close to those massive heights they scaled to reach Hip-Hug Her. Although perhaps I'm only saying that due to the presence of a few unusual covers... Or, egad! that I am actually pining for their old, R&B days. You might notice from the track listening that there's barely any R&B on here. Which means, I guess, that even Booker T. & The M.G.s had to evolve along with all the other pop bands in the '60s. (Maybe it's strange that I thought they somehow would've been immune to that.)

Although I do like what they did to the most well-known song here, “Eleanor Rigby.” The rhythm section is subdued and kind of monotonous, which gives it a bit of a menacing feel. Moreover, Booker T. puts this insane wah-wah effect on his organ, the likes of which I don't think I've ever heard before. The song gets a bit frantic and--perhaps--angry in the middle, which is something that the original never dreamed of. With all those things in mind, I'd say the end-result is something that's pretty cool. Another cover of a wildly famous song here is Jimi Hendrix's “Foxy Lady,” which is fun to listen to mainly because I just want to hear that riff more times! Although I can't claim they did anything particularly wild to it.

The original songs are probably why you'd want to buy the ticket, though. In particular, the title track. Of course it's not nearly as iconic or infectious as their previous title-track songs such as “Green Onions” or “Hip Hug-Her,” but it's nevertheless a whole barrel of fun. There's a hint of tropicana they adopt there as Booker T. (I presume) plays a bright and fast (though perhaps overly simple) keyboard riff while 'The Human Timekeeper' drums up just about one of the most complex rhythms I could ever imagine. Midway through the song, Booker T. supplements the proceedings with a tiny xylophone solo.

The other original that's very good is “Heads or Tails,” which features a catchy riff and some terrific organ and guitar solos. As always, it's amazing to behold the chemistry these guys had with one another, and it seems everything falls into place perfectly there. Jackson's drumming is quiet though dazzlingly complex to start out with before he adopts a far more standard drum beat so that the other instrumentalists can have their moment to shine.

The most startling cover here is Dominic Frontiere's theme for Hang 'Em High. And what do you know? It's about as awesome as you could possibly hope Booker T. & The M.G.s would be playing the theme song for a spaghetti-western that Clint Eastwood starred in. One cover I'm less enthusiastic about is The Tams' “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy,” which must have been the song of the hour at the time. Of course it's lacking the driving force of the original, and it doesn't quite succeed in producing that mellow, chill-out vibe that they usually aim for. (I still gave it an A- because... er... it's a good tune!) Another popular song they covered was The Delfonics' “La La Means I Love You,” which is good source material, but this instrumental version comes across as too lackadaisical.

Probably the song here I like the least is “Willow Weep For Me” is piano jazz done in a similar style as Vince Guaraldi... but truth be told, I also find it a bit dull. (Of course I still have mountains of respect for it, which is something I say when I want to try to weasel my way out of admitting my lack of appreciation for jazz.) On the brighter side, “Over Easy” contains a crazy rock 'n' roll piano solo, which I think gives us definitive proof that rock 'n' roll is the superior art form.

I guess Booker T. & The M.G.s were always one of those bands that “the critics” always liked, but the public at large never completely embraced them... that is, apart from “Green Onions,” of course. Maybe we have the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, who inducted them all the way back in 1992, to thank for keeping tacky journalists for throwing the one-hit-wonder label at them. But anyway, even though I don't find this album nearly as enjoyable as I found Green Onions or Hip Hug-Her or even Soul Dressing, this one's definitely a good find and a must-have if you're one of the 0.25% of the human population who really loves these guys. 11/15

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All reviews are written by Michael Lawrence.