The longtime architect of the STAX sound returns with his first solo album in 20 years. Booker T’s funky organ is backed by Neil Young and the Drive-By Truckers for an unforgettable jam session. Booker T Jones made his name as the bandleader for The MGs, the house band for STAX records. Unlike the unsung Funk Brothers of Motown fame, Booker T and The MGs released their own music as well. After they parted ways, Jones released several solo albums and then had an illustrious career as a producer for the likes of Neil Young and Bill Withers. For any one of those accomplishments, his place in music history is assured. No one would blame him if he decided to live in the past and consistently re-release new re-mastered editions of “Green Onions” for his fans. Instead, Potato Hole is a lively trip across several musical genres, paying tribute to the past, but continually moving forward.
While he is not playing with the MGs on this album, Booker T is not without friends. Neil Young’s guitar is in full growl mode during the heavy opening track, “Pound it Out.” He tunes it down just a bit for the rest of the album, so that he doesn’t overshadow the other players, but his distinctive style is always present. The accompanying rhythm work by The Drive-By Truckers — dual guitars, bass, and drums — provides a solid foundation from which Booker T’s organ soars. For an instrumental album, his organ takes on the role of lead vocalist, consistently at the forefront and dripping with emotion, whether he is playing one of his own compositions or covering a song by one of his friends — Outkast (“Hey Ya”), Tom Waits (“Get Behind the Mule”), and The Drive-By Truckers (“Space City”).
The first time I listen to an instrumental album, I am usually able to identify the context in my life it fits best — music to work by, background music for an RPG session, driving music, etc. Potato Hole has thus far defied such easy classification. As soon as I think it fits into one niche, the track changes and the mood changes with it, from the hard rock of “Pound it Out,” through the modern R&B feel of “She Breaks,” into the jazzy “Warped Sister.” Not all of the tracks are instant classics. A couple fail to really stand out from the crowd, but there are no bad songs in the bunch. The phrase “musical odyssey” is overused, I think, but Booker T definitely takes us on a funky, groovy trip with this album.
Booker T: www.bookert.com