THE ROAD FROM MEMPHIS
Booker T. Jones (Anti)
It's a natural thing that Booker T. Jones would add his musical voice to the recent run of discs paying homage to old-school soul and Memphis.
As keyboard player for Booker T. and the MGs, Jones was one of the architects of the seminal Stax/Volt sound to whom everyone from Sheryl Crow to Warren Haynes has recently paid homage. Because of his signature sound -- that instantly identifiable swirling Hammond B-3 organ that was so prominent on the instrument "Green Onions" in the '60s -- "The Road From Memphis" plays like a long-lost classic.
But don't call it retro because that would under-sell the disc's many charms. Working with members of the Roots -- Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson on drums, bassist Owen Biddle, and guitarist Kirk Douglas, all of whom bring Philly soul swing to the Stax/Volt grit -- Jones sounds thoroughly contemporary.
As the title suggests, the disc is all about Jones' Memphis background and he brings along a few backing vocalists such as Lou Reed, Sharon Jones, Matt Berninger from the National, and Jim James from My Morning Jacket to provide variety to what is mostly an instrumental album.
Highlights include a swinging version of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy," the street-smart funk of "The Vamp" and "Walking Papers," and James' transcendent vocals on "Progress," a song that sounds like it could've been a great hit 40 or so years ago.
"The Road From Memphis" marks the continuation of a welcome return from one of soul music's great artists. After a decades-long hiatus, Jones recorded "Potato Hole" in 2009 with the Drive-By Truckers and Neil Young backing him. Now, just two years later, and with the Roots on board, Jones is gathering some exciting creative momentum.
-- ROD LOCKWOOD
LOVE TO BEG
Dana Fuchs (Ruf)
My first reaction after hearing newcomer Dana Fuchs' debut on the Ruf Records label was that I was listening to someone who gets it. With a voice that is both sultry and husky, there is little wonder she starred as Janis Joplin in Eric Nederlander's off-Broadway musical, Love, Janis.
A lot of women have both allure and a rough-hewn, rock/blues quality to their voices, though; what moves Fuchs ahead of others is her sense of rhythm and knack for punctuating the important notes with just enough attitude.
Fuchs, who also has recorded one previous studio album, played Sadie in the feature film Across the Universe and was one of the reasons why that movie's soundtrack went platinum. Of course, it helps that her band on "Love to Beg" delivers some hot rock licks and is a bit of a fun, pleasantly surprising throwback for rock purists.
-- TOM HENRY
SON OF CHAMBER SYMPHONY/STRING QUARTET
John Adams (Nonesuch)
Bold, vibrant, dashing, and intriguing, composer John Adams' latest disc is not music from your typical Sunday afternoon chamber symphony. It's polished and crisp, but with more of a frenetic style than a romantic one.
Featured in both sections are instrumentalists at the top of their game, many of whom get to step out and showcase their deft solo work on violin, cello, and other instruments. The "Son of Chamber Symphony" is performed by the 10-year-old International Contemporary Ensemble, while the 22-year-old St. Lawrence String Quartet, based at Stanford University, performs the second half.
-- TOM HENRY