Booker T & the MG’s – McLemore Ave (reissue review)

Booker T & the MG’s – McLemore Ave (Concord Music)

Stax Records was the king of all soul music, boasting a roster that included stalwarts like Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Rufus Thomas, Sam & Dave, and Booker T & the MG’s, while helping define the very meaning of the word soul. The Concord Music Group has acquired the Stax back catalog and has just released several more in their Stax Remasters series – all including excellent liner notes, photos and unreleased bonus tracks.

Booker T & his MG’s were the greatest backup band in soul history, playing on hit records by Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and Albert King, while maintaining their own success with instrumental hits like “Green Onions” and “Time is Tight.”  As this new reissue’s liner notes reveal, leader Booker T. Jones became enamored with the latest release by the Beatles, Abbey Road – especially the suite of songs on side two, and decided to pay tribute with McLemore Ave.

Although it’s fairly commonplace now, covering an entire album by another artist was a bold move back in 1971.  Since there wasn’t a tighter rhythm section in music, you’d figure they were going to make things interesting.  They choose to mix things up immediately by starting at the end – the album opens with the last few songs on the original Abbey Road LP: “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight,” and “the End.”  Easily the best song on the record and also the only one not featured in a medley – “Something” starts out rather dreamily before segueing into a long jam that borrows heavily from “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’” from the Rolling Stones.  The other three cuts are all long medleys that center around side two of the original Beatles’ album.  Especially good is the MG’s funky version of “You Never Give Me Your Money,” while “Mean Mr. Mustard” grooves in a way the Beatles never could.  They chose not to tackle four of the more schmaltzy numbers: “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” “Oh Darling,” “Octopus’ Garden,” and “Her Majesty.” Of the six bonus tracks (all Beatles’ covers), “Michelle,” which oddly begins with the intro to “Spooky” by the Classics IV, is the most interesting, while “Lady Madonna” is turned into a swinging toe-tapper. An interesting and enjoyable tribute. –Tony Peters