Fire It Up
Being billed as Steve Cropper’s first solo album in over 50 years, Fire It Up isn’t really a solo album at all – and Cropper won’t ever be remembered as a solo artist; wouldn’t want to be I’m sure. But he’s owning this one – that’s for sure. There will be a few records over the years he probably didn’t want to put his name to, because his name is a hallmark, one of the world’s greatest session players; one of the world’s all-time greatest guitar players. His tasteful licks and his very clever bag of tricks (never anything too flashy – always cut to fit just right) have been as influential as anything or anyone else to ever pick up the electric guitar.
He’s earned co-writing credits on staples like Soul Man and Dock of the Bay and backed everyone from Albert King through Otis Redding and been a key member of Booker T and The M.G.’s and the Blues Brothers. And that’s just scratching the surface. Legendary stuff. And his soloing, his lead lines, the perfect economical portrait of restraint. Never overplaying, never ever under-delivering.
Approaching 80, he sounds as good as he ever did right here. His distinctive R’n’B guitar licks drive the opening instrumental prologue, Bush Hog Part 1 – in fact they drive the entire album pretty much. And for the first song-proper, the title track, it’s a slinky groove that is established via the guitar. Roger C. Reale is the vocalist here. He’s got a good blues voice – gruff and a bit like Van Morrison in his latter years but it does wear thin across the album – and feels a bit too shouty a bit too often.
There’s also a lack of memorable songs – really. I mean these are fine little throwaway efforts, nothing too cringe or embarrassing but if we think about the fire that he has stirred up 40 and 50 and nearly 60 years ago then there’s only embers here. But, still, you’ll find magic if you like – the chunky little mini-solo that sets up the outro to I’m Not Havin’ It is exquisite, Out of Love’s gorgeous R’n’B lines and who better to rip off than yourself if you can: She’s So Fine is driven along by Soul Man-styled guitar – and why the fuck not eh.
There’s some nice muscly horns (Two Wrongs) and reminders of the soul-drenched pop that Cropper had such a hand in (Heartbreak Street), even some stomping ole swagger at times (The Go-Getter Is Gone) but you could fire up any Stax boxset or the MG’s or anything else he touched rather than this. And you’d be wise to. But think of this as a postcard – still alive and well, a nice wave – and you can smile as you listen. He really is one of the all-time greats and there’s still evidence of that right here.