Booker T. ‘Sound the alarm’ (Stax) 4/5

BookerTKeyboardist extraordinaire and key member of the legendary MGs, Booker T. Jones has been in a rich vein of form in recent years and cut a critically acclaimed album a couple of years ago, ‘The Road from Memphis’, which updated the classic Stax sound. For this latest offering, he has enlisted some contemporary musicians and producers and has creatively mixed nu-soul flavours with more traditional soul-blues and jazzy grooves. Long-time fans will marvel at the MGs feel to ‘Austin City Blues’ which is a roaming instrumental featuring Gary Clark Jr. on guitar, or the 60s style ballad in a Muscle Shoals vein of ‘Your love is no love’ with lead vocals by Ty Taylor. However, this is no mere retro nostalgia trip and Booker T. should be given credit for moving things forward into the twenty-first century. One of the strongest of several vocal numbers is ‘Broken heart’ with Jay James on lead vocals and this mid-tempo groove comes across as a proto-Motown drum beat that the late Amy Whitehouse might have excelled on. Jazzy guitar riffs abound on the excellent ‘All over the place’ which has a Stax undercurrent while for some Latin tinged input look no further than ’66 Impala’ which features notable percussion masters Sheila E and Poncho Sanchez. Perhaps a future project might involve an entire album of Latin meets soul-blues excursions. Singer Raphael Saadiq plays the role of guitarist on several pieces while production duties are shared between the Avila Brothers and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis with the latter two a surprise, but very welcome element. An excellent outing, then, and one that builds on Booker T. Jones already prestigious reputation. Tim Stenhouse

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