Booker T "Potato Hole" Album Review
My, how time does fly.
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been over 20 years since the legendary Booker T. Jones released a solo album.
Twenty years since the man that helped bring us “Green Onions” and “Hip-Hug-Her,” along with countless other soul classics, sat down at his Hammond B3 organ and hammered out a solo album.
As the namesake in Booker T. & The M.G.’s (with Duck Dunn on bass, Col. Steve Cropper on guitar and Al Jackson Jr. on drums), Jones was at ground-zero during the golden age of Memphis’ Stax Records during the late 1960s.
With the label using Booker T. & The M.G.’s as its house band, the group played on more bonafide soul and R&B classics than you can shake a stick at.
And apparently, the creative fire deep inside the often-imitated organist is burning hot again, and now he has favored a new generation of soul lovers with Potato Hole, his first solo outing in over two decades.
A potato hole is a 19th century African-American term for the hiding spot that slaves used to keep food they smuggled from their owners hidden and safe.
And while Potato Hole is a Booker T. Jones album, it is not a Booker T & The M.G.’s affair.
Jones’ backing band on this one is the Athens, Ga. based jam/roots band, Drive-By Truckers.
Also heavily involved was another larger-than-life figure, Neil Young. Young played guitar on nine of the disc’s 10 all-instrumental cuts.
Despite this being Booker T.’s show all the way, meaning plenty of groovy Hammond B3, there is still a lot of guitar on Potato Hole. And Jones gets in on the axe-slinging, as well. He plays both acoustic and electric guitar on the title track.
Both Young and the Truckers fit in right at home with Booker T. (Jones actually recorded and toured as a member of Young’s backing band in the not-too-distant past), but the M.G.’s they’re sure not.
They don’t really push Jones on Potato Hole. The pairing does work OK, but it just doesn’t really gel, or really even let the Truckers add much of their own stank to the project. Mr. Young does have a few “Crazy Horse” moments on the album, however.
Perhaps it would have been too much to ask for Duck and the Colonel to have been invited to take part in the shindig, but one can always wish.
However, a more inspired pairing might have been placing Booker T. in the studio with Medeski, Martin and Wood for something more substantial. And with that eclectic jazz trio, maybe something more off the beaten path.
While it may not be as filling as one could have hoped for, it’s still a pure delight to hear Jones wail away on the Hammond B3, no matter what the circumstances.
Still, it’s not a total wash - there’s still meat on the bones of Potato Hole.
After Booker T.’s glorious organ knocks out the first couple of bars of “Pound it Out,” the album-opener, Young jumps into the fray and sleezes things up considerably with some dirty electric guitar. “Pound it Out” is the right choice for a name on this one.
Potato Hole largely stays within the confines of that grungy, funky pocket for the duration of the disc.
Booker T. busts out a couple of covers on the disc, starting with Outkast’s “Hey Ya.” It’s a good choice, but one can’t help but miss Andre 3000’s semi-crazy vocals all over it. Booker T. does lay down some cool gospel licks on the tune.
Tom Wait’s “Get Behind the Mule,” another stomper, is also taken for a spin and the words are not missed nearly as much as they are on “Hey Ya.”
“Nan” and “Warped Sister,” back-to-back tracks near the center of the album, shine as highlights. “Nan” is on the softer side of things, with “Warped Sister” kicking the pace back up a couple of steps faster.
With so many things lined up in its favor (Booker T., Young, the Truckers and some foot-tapping cuts) it’s really a shame that at the end of Potato Hole, one is left feeling a little bit unsatisfied.
On the upside though, maybe we won’t have to patiently wait another two decades for Booker T. to author another disc.
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