Stax Records re-introduced itself to the world with a series of brilliant retrospective CDs celebrating their long history. We’ve seen a two-disc history of their biggest hits, Stax artists doing Motown and the Beatles, and now Stax has brought out a couple of new releases by some legendary practitioners of the soulful music that came from their studios way back when!
Steve Cropper was the guitar man behind many of Stax’s greatest successes. He was a key member of the MGs; that solo in “Green Onions” is pure Cropper. And his rhythmic and mellow axe work was heard on so many hits I can’t begin to list them. Tasty is the word that comes to mind when I think of Steve Cropper. He was one of the guitar players brought in by The Blues Brothers to give them that Memphis authenticity. Felix Cavaliere had his share of hits too. As a member of the (Young) Rascals he wrote many of their songs, played keyboards and sang. He’s slid into the shadows lately, touring with Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals and playing the oldies or as a member of Ringo’s All-Starrs. Now, both of these stars are set to shine again with their new duet CD.
Nudge It Up a Notch is a funky mix of yesterday and today. A hint of rap (“Make the Time Go Faster”), some blue-eyed soul, and a couple of Booker T-ish instrumentals combine to make your toes tap and your backbone slip. OK, there aren’t any real surprises, but with two guys like this you’re not looking for surprises. You want the good stuff that you remember. And they don’t disappoint. I heard a complaint that this was an album of “easy-listening rock” but this music sounds just like the old days, and it wasn’t “easy listening” 40 years ago. Maybe we’re just that much older.
With backing by Chester Thompson, Shake Anderson and singers Mark Williams and N’nandi Bryant, the album is basic soul and it’s the better for it. Sure there are some strings, and Mark and N’nandi add lots of “oohs” but this is soul, man. Cool.
Even cooler is an album of new songs from the great Eddie Floyd. Eddie Floyd, the man wrote “Knock on Wood.” Here he is in 2008 with new songs. What’s he been doing? Well, he tours once a year with ex-Rolling Stone Bill Wyman’s band, and he’s been playing tributes and soul gigs but Eddie Loves You So is all Eddie.
It’s his first new album in six years, and includes 10 songs he wrote for other artists, done by the master himself. Produced by Michael Dinallo and Ducky Carlisle, the sound is classic Floyd. Classic Stax. The backing band sounds like the MGs (or what’s left of them, including Steve Cropper) and they swing on “You’re So Fine” (a hit for The Falcons in 1959). They groove on a mellow “Close To You” (is that pedal steel guitar?), and the opener “Til My Back Ain’t Got No Bone.” Listen to “You Don’t Know What You Mean To Me” and think of Van Morrison. “Head To Toe” rocks nicely. Eddie’s voice has rarely sounded better, finding the highs and the lows.
Stax has done a bang-up job here, right down to the cover design so reminiscent of those ’60s album. Great songs, playing, singing, all done up in a perfect package. Well done, Stax!