Sound The Alarm
Booker T. Jones has been the victim of a handful of “comeback” albums across the last two decades, including, originally, the re-billing of Booker T & The M.G.’s and then he recorded just as Booker T. Jones (including with The Roots backing him; no complaints there). This new album has him just as Booker T.
He’s one of the greats – for all the fine M.G.’s lead work obviously and then for all the material he recorded as a sideman, as leader of the M.G.’s as the Stax house band. And you get the feeling with most of this alleged comeback material that he’s all but treading water. Sound The Alarm should have alarm bells ringing due to the number of guests, one of those hackneyed duet records…
But wait, the opening title track with blue-eyed soul-pastiche-guy Mayer Hawthorne is pretty damn good. And Gary Clark Jr. appears on Austin City Blues and though it plods it still means a lot more than anything on Clark’s atrocious debut full-lengther; one of the great disappointments of recent times.
Booker T can still play, there’s no question and some of the guests here are always welcome voices (Sheila E., Poncho Sanchez, Anthony Hamilton) and there are some strong new announcements – such as Kori Withers (you probably knew of her father, Bill).
But man it’s hard to write this up as anything really exciting. Luke James features on All Over The Place (that could have been the name of the record, really) and that’s another decent modern-soul stab with a nice feel. Then the song Fun might have been exactly that but it still feels like a phoned-in approximation of Booker T’s signature sound; updating it doesn’t actually do it all that many favours.
I like the Jay James cameo on Broken Heart. Another decent nu-soul croon tune that references Motown/Stax-styled feels (just a bit). It might have been better if Jamie Lidell was on hand. It doesn’t touch his recent work. It’s too clean, too Christian-seeming.
But I really like Feel Good – a strange wee instrumental hip-hop track, you’d believe it, if it was just a sliver, to be a leftover from Dilla or one of Madlib’s soul-aping works. Maybe that’s where Booker T really needs to head. To make an instrumental hip-hop album. It’s telling that the one song without a name-guest attached is the one that really resonates.
Hey these things are always a mixed bag. And so that’s exactly what this is. I’m pleased he’s still alive. And (mostly) kicking. But this record is not essential. It’s not crucial. It’s not needed.
He should go back to The Roots, or indeed to his roots – that is what is required. It’s clear the chops are there. So no reason to coast and be happy to be paired up with Estelle and Vintage Trouble; grateful even. At this rate he could end up remaking The Commitments soundtrack before long.
A pass-mark then? Well, only just…and only because of who he is/was not because of what this is/wants to be.