Booker T & The M.G’S – McLemore Avenue – Craft Recordings

by | Oct 23, 2020 | Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Booker T & The M.G’S – McLemore Avenue – Stax Records STS-2027 (1970)/Craft Recordings CR00289 (2020) – 180-gram stereo vinyl, 37:57 *****:

(Booker T. Jones – piano, organ, keyboards, guitar; Steve Cropper – guitar; Donald “Duck” Dunn – bass; Al Jackson Jr. – drums)

Booker T & The M.G’S were an integral part of the American soul landscape. They were the “house band” for Memphis-based Stax Records. With leader Booker T. Jones (piano, organ, keyboards), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewis Steinberg and later Donald “Duck” Dunn (both on bass) plus Al Jackson Jr. (drums0, the group played on several iconic albums by Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas, Johnny Taylor, and Otis Redding. They were one of the first racially integrated rock bands in history. They broke through with the instrumental crossover hit, “Green Onions” in 1962. Other hits included “Hip Hug-Her” and “Groovin’”. This sound electrified both the U.S. and U.K., influencing a new generation of musicians. Booker T & The M.G.’S remained a staple at Stax until Jones’ departure in 1971. Among many honors, they were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1982. 

When the Beatles recorded their “finale” Abbey Road” in 1969, it was admired by a wide array of fellow musicians. Among them was Booker T. Jones. He was impressed with their artistic daring and became inspired to record an album of covers with his band. McLemore Avenue was recorded in 1970 within a year of the Beatles release. It is considered one of the best tributes to The Fab Four ever done. Craft Recordings has issued a 180-gram vinyl re-mastering of this album. Of course, the title mirrors The Beatles as McLemore Avenue is where Stax Records produced this legendary music. Booker T. & The M.G.’S transform Abbey Road into a deep amalgamation of soul/rock. Creativity is at the core of this project. The songs are arranged into three re-sequenced medleys and a “stand-alone” version of “Something”. They even discard some of the “lesser” songs, which is a good thing. Side 1 opens with the first extended medley (“Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End/Here Comes The Sun/Come Together”). Jones brings in “Golden Slumbers” with a moody Sunday-church organ as the band falls in with trademark Memphis grooves. They manage to distill the melodic songwriting quality of McCartney. There is an uptempo shift to “Carry That Weight”. Cropper’s sharp guitar coalesces around a hard-rocking template. The complex rhythm patterns (with perhaps some Caribbean flair) are pervasive. Al Jackson Jr. channels Ringo Starr on the drum into to  “The End”, and eventually makes it his own. The reinvention continues on “Something” as Jones’ loping, bluesy organ swells. There are several jazzy key modulations and Cropper turns up the intensity on his solo. The final part of the medley (“Come Together”) is refreshingly close to the original. John Lennon’s ominous vibe is captured by Jones’ evocative swamp-like organ, Jackson Jr.’s tom tom, Dunn’s pulsing bass line and Cropper’s precise guitar licks.

Side 2 boasts two medleys. The first begins with the atmospheric “Because”. While the original showcased multi-tracked vocals, this one is driven by expansive, and occasionally rousing organ lines. “You Never Give Me your Money” is jaunty and muscular, but the musicians have an innate feel for the unorthodox Beatles time signatures. Between Booker T’s organ (with at touch of funky synthesizer) and Cropper’s guitar, the essence of the vocals is translated. The second medley takes on Lennon. “Here Comes The Sun King” is given the Stax treatment as Jones’ organ shading washes over the track with a distinct gospel resonance. They are able to do their own thing without erasing the core elements of the compositions. On “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” the bouncy, pop/rock aesthetics are there. When the quartet shifts to McCartney’s pop-centric “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window”, a cool soul jazz dynamic adds new texture. “I Want You/She’s So Heavy” was always a down ’n’ dirty hook. With skillful articulation The M.G.’s infuse the hypnotic opus with Cropper’s passionate guitar playing and Jones’ crashing organ.

McLemore Avenue is a first-rate Beatles tribute album. Booker T & The MG’s re-tool the Abbey Road soundtrack into Stax excellence. The vinyl re-mastering by Craft Recordings is superior, with exacting stereo separation. Jones’ varied organ tonality is fulsome and Cropper’s electric guitar is crystalline. The bottom end anchors the mix. This pressing is flawless with no hisses or pops.

Side 1: Medley – (Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight, The End, Here Comes The Sun, Come Together); Something

Side 2: Medley – (Because, You Never Give Me Your Money); Medley – (Sun King, Mean Mr. Mustard, Polythene Pam, She Came In Through The Bathroom Window, I Want You, She’s So Heavy  

 —Robbie Gerson

Please see Craft Recordings website for more information.

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