What I’ve Been Listening To: Booker T. Jones/Sound The Alarm

I dig the distinct sound of the Hammond B3 – just can’t get of enough it! Whether it’s used in blues, jazz, rock or even hard rock a la Deep Purple, to me it’s one of the greatest sounding music instruments I know. If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, this won’t be exactly a new revelation. If you happen to be here for the first time and would like to read more about the B3, I invite you to check out this previous post from June 2017.

Undoubtedly, one of the music artists most closely associated with the legendary tone wheel organ is Booker T. Jones. I feel magic is happening when the man works those keys and drawbars. As I’m writing this, I can literally hear Greens Onions.  Jones wrote the tune’s distinct organ line when he was just 17. His band mates from the M.G.s helped put it all together, and it became their signature tune. Booker T. & the M.G.s, of course, were primarily known as the house band of Memphis soul label Stax. While I know and dig the music Jones helped create in the ’60s, until recently, I had not explored any of his work post Stax and the M.G.’s.

Booker T. & the M.G.s
Booker T. & The M.G.’s (from left): Al Jackson Jr., Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn

Booker T.’s solo debut Evergreen appeared in 1974, four years after he had severed ties with Stax and moved to Los Angeles. Sound The Alarm from June 2013 is his most recent solo work. It also marked Jones’ return to Stax since Melting Pot, the M.G.’s final album with the label in January 1971.

Sound The Alarm was co-produced by Jones and brothers Bobby Ross Avila and Issiah “IZ” Avila, who have worked with the likes of Usher, Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige and Missy Elliot. The album also features various collaborations with younger R&B artists. The result is an intriguing blend of Booker T.’s Hammond B3 and contemporary sounds.

Booker T. Jones

Here’s the groovy opener and title track. It’s one of eight tunes co-written by The Avila Brothers. The song features American multi-talented artist Andrew Mayer Cohen, known as Mayer Hawthorne, on vocals. To be clear, I had never heard of the 40-year-old from Los Angeles before, who in addition to being a singer is a producer, songwriter, arranger, audio engineer, DJ and multi-instrumentalist, according to Wikipedia.

Broken Heart features another contemporary artist, Jay James, who has a great soulful voice that blends beautifully with Jones’ warm Hammond sound. The tune was co-written by Jones, The Avila Brothers and Terry Lewis. Together with his song-writing and production partner James Samuel (Jimmy Jam), Lewis also co-produced the track

Next up: Austin City Blues. Of course I couldn’t skip a good ole blues! Penned by Jones, the instrumental features Gary Clark, Jr. on guitar. The Hammond and Clark’s electric guitar live in perfect harmony, to creatively borrow from a Paul McCartney ballad he recorded with Stevie Wonder in the early ’80s. “Gary and I have a real thing going on mentally, kind of like what I had with Steve Cropper in the MGs, really understanding each other,” Jones noted on his website.  “He really is in my corner.”

66 Impala is a cool, largely instrumental Latin jazz tune with an infectious Santana vibe, even though there’s no guitar. But you can easily imagine Carlos playing electric guitar lines in his signature style and tone on the track, which is another co-write by Jones and The Avila Brothers. Instead of Santana, it features two other big names: Poncho Sanchez and Sheila E on percussion and drums, respectively.

The last track I’d like to call out is the album’s closer Father Son Blues. The title of this Jones-written tune couldn’t be more appropriate. On guitar, the instrumental duo features Booker T.’s son Ted, who was 22 years old at the time of the recording. Apparently, Booker T. coincidentally had heard his son play at their house one day and at first mistakenly had assumed it was Joe Bonamassa. “I thought, ‘This is amazing,'” Jones noted. “‘you can have something right in front of your own nose and you don’t see it!’”

Commenting on the collaboration with The Avila Brothers, Jones said, “Bobby and I had previously done a little impromptu gig with El Debarge – that was the turning point when I decided to work with him. They have a different perspective about the musical palette. Their attitude is quite unique and quite innovative. That’s something I’ve looked for since I was maybe 13 or 14 years old and had figured out a little bit about music. It can be very predictable or it can be exploratory. I’m always looking for something new to do.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Booker T. Jones website, YouTube

 

John Mellencamp’s New Album Features His Now-Familiar Roots Sound With A Twist

“Other People’s Stuff” presents selection of covers from seminal albums, compilations, unearthed sessions and documentaries

John Mellencamp today released his new previously announced 24th studio album Other People’s Stuff. Fans of his transformation from straight rock to a roots-oriented sound, which has been gradual and begun with the excellent The Lonesome Jubilee from 1987, are going to dig what they hear – count me as one of them! Whether Other People’s Stuff will gain Mellencamp new fans is perhaps less certain. Something tells me the fiercely independent-minded Indiana rocker, who clearly is comfortable with the place to which his long musical journey has taken him, won’t be losing any sleep over it!

According to an announcement accompanying its release, Other People’s Stuff presents a collection of covers Mellencamp has recorded throughout his long career. It also includes a new version of Eyes On The Prize, a song he originally performed at The White House during a 2010 Obama Administration celebration of music from the civil rights movement, as I previously covered here. Yes, it still is hard to believe that not long ago America had a leader who truly cared about these issues – and the arts I might add. Eyes On The Prize also became the album’s lead single in early November, coinciding with the record’s initial announcement.

John Mellencamp 2019 Tour Poster

“Most, if not all, of the songs on Other People’s Stuff come from The Great American Songbook,” Mellencamp reiterated. “These are songs that have been recorded over the last 40 years of my career, but had never been put together as one piece of work. Now, they have.”

So there’s your little twist – rather than your traditional covers album an artist typically records at given time period, here you have recordings Mellencamp initially captured at different times during his career and subsequently put a collection of thesm on one record. The other commonality of all these tunes are lyrics that are clearly on the darker side – probably a reflection of Mellencamp’s sentiments about the current state of the country. Let’s get to some music.

Here’s Teardrops Will Fall, which Mellencamp first recorded for the Trouble No More album from June 2003. His great take, which prominently features accordion and violin, would have been a perfect fit for The Lonesome Jubilee. The song was co-written by singer and record producer Gerry Granaham and Marion Smith. Granaham had a string of charting singles in the late 1950s and early ’60s, performing as Dickey Doo & The Don’ts.

Next up: Stones In My Passway, a great Robert Johnson blues tune Mellencamp also first recorded for Trouble No More. It features some nice slide guitar-playing – I assume by multi-instrumentalist Andy York, who has been part of Mellencamp’s band for some 20 years.

Wreck Of The Old ’97 is a song Mellencamp initially recorded for a 2004 compilation album titled The Rose & The Briar: Death, Love And Liberty In The American Ballad. Credited to Fred Lewey, Henry Whitter and Charles Noell, the old country song was inspired by a bad rail accident in September 1903 when a Southern Railway mail train derailed near Danville, Va. The accident, which became known as the Wreck of the Old ’97, killed seven on-board personnel, injured seven others and destroyed a bridge as the train careened off the side of the structure.

The last track I’d like to highlight is I Don’t Know Why I Love You. Interestingly, it’s a Stevie Wonder tune from his ninth studio album For Once In My Life, which was released in December 1968. I didn’t think Wonder, one of my favorite artists, was on Mellencamp’s radar screen, so I was surprised about this pick. Mellencamp’s cover first appeared on a sampler from June 2003 called Conception – An Interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s Songs. The tribute to the soul legend also featured Eric Clapton, Mary J. Blige and Brian McKnight, among other artists.

Mellencamp will support his new album with The John Mellencamp Show (see tour poster above). Appropriately, the 2019 tour is scheduled to kick off on February 7 in South Bend, Ind. The dense 40-date schedule among others includes Cincinnati (Feb 10), Baltimore, Md. (Feb 20), New York (Feb 25-27), Kansas City, MO (Mar 14), Nashville, Tenn. (Mar 19-20) and Wichita (Apr 16), before it concludes on Apr 20 in Albuquerque, N.M.

One of the other stops is right in my backyard in New Brunswick, NJ (Feb 23) at a great theatre. The thought of seeing Mellencamp for what would be my third time is certainly appealing. I guess I just need to find another reason to justify buying a ticket – and hope by the time I do remaining seats will be reasonably affordable!

Sources: Wikipedia, John Mellencamp website, YouTube