22 April 2009

potato hole?

I think the first steps I took down the road of music geek-ery were when I purchased, sight unseen, George Lucas' American Graffiti for my parents (I think I was in middle school - there was a Blockbuster close to our house, and I'd walk there during summer vacation. Perhaps I have the long talks with the guy that was there every day to thank for the film geek-ery, too. That's worth some consideration). I don't know why; we only watched it the one time, and I'm pretty sure they've not looked at it since. Most of the presents I've bought for people have gone over as well as the proverbial lead zeppelin, so I'm certainly not surprised.

I believe the song that started it all was Booker T. & the MG's "Green Onions." I'd heard it before, in The Sandlot, but in the same way I'd later have to get a Dire Straits album after watching Spy Game ("Brothers in Arms," while used better in the last episode of Season 2 of The West Wing, was a great soundtrack choice for the end of Spy Game, a movie I feel not enough people appreciate, but again, that's for another time), I found myself filled with the need to seek out the people who'd created the nearly-three-minutes-of-perfection that is "Green Onions." I've yet to meet a person that disagreed with me on that, actually...

We have my father to thank for the next step, for he was the one that went out to our favorite local records store (Twist & Shout) and picked up The Very Best Of... Booker T. & The MG's for my listening pleasure. While it's important to note that I was raised on a lot of bluegrass, classic Capitol records releases, Lyle Lovett, and more jazz artists than I can possibly remember, but it really was Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper (who, along with "Duck," appeared in The Blues Brothers, and the significantly weaker Blues Brothers 2000), Donald "Duck" Dunn (who learned the bass guitar because it had the smaller number of strings), and Al Jackson, Jr. (who was murdered in 1975) that caught me. I know for sure they're responsible for my lifelong love affair with the sound of a keyboard, what I'm going to call a "groove," and absolutely opened the door for me to fall head over heels in love with Dave Brubeck (something I would love to thank Booker T. for, should I ever meet him).

But, as usual, I'm getting off topic. On March 30th, I was perusing the Huffington Post, when I came across a posting from one Mister Booker T. Jones. A Huffington Post "premiere," as he called it, of a song from his new(!!!!!!) album. Honestly, though I had no information to confirm it, I thought Booker T. was dead, and had been, for a while. It was nice to learn I was wrong.

"Native New Yorker," the track that was posted (that featured Neil Young on guitar), hit me, and hard. It sounded a lot like an MG's song, but with the rocking edge (more than an edge... a core, really) that only Mr. Young could provide. Every part of the song rang out clear and true (reminiscent, in that way, of the Brendan O'Brien remix of Pearl Jam's Ten), and grooved in that fantastic way that songs written and performed by guys who really know what the hell they're doing can.

In case you couldn't tell, I was taken from the start. And if all that wasn't enough (Booker T! Neil Young! An awesome song!), I found out that if you preordered the album from the store his website linked to, Booker T. Jones himself would autograph it. That was a pretty dramatic shift for one day, going from thinking he was dead to ordering a CD that would soon bear his signature.

Well, it's arrived, and, indeed, has his signature on its front. Let me just start by saying that it's a fantastic record, one I didn't even know I'd been waiting almost half my life to hear. It lives up to the promises made by "Native New Yorker."

"Pound It Out" is probably my favorite song on the album; the way it effortlessly shifts from hard-rocking to hard-grooving is just something to envy. Booker T's keyboard dances around the backing band the way Gene Kelly shines in front of a troupe of dancers.

"She Breaks" reminds me the most of an MG's song (perhaps with the exception of the title track); the minimalist nature of the song probably does that for me. Nothing really tries to draw attention to itself at the expense of any other instrument. Everything's working towards the common goal, up until the 2:40 or so mark where Booker T. just gets to unleash the gods of the keys for a few glorious seconds, until they rein everything in. Again, this is like a master's thesis in "how it's done."

They've apparently been covering "Hey Ya" for a while on their tours (Booker T. & the Drive-By Truckers), but this is the first I've heard of it. I'm kind of glad, because this came as a fantastic surprise. This is the first time on the album that the guitars and the keys really get to play together, taking turns replacing and ripping around Andre 3000's vocals. And, frankly, it rocks.

The next track is "Native New Yorker," so let's just jump ahead to "Nan," which is where things slow down for a bit, but only about two minutes. It's speaks to me mostly as a bit of a break in the action, so I'm going to jump ahead again to "Warped Sister," which is kind of a spacy song. I kind of lose my head in the guitar fuzz when this comes on.

"Get Behind the Mule" kind of pounds it out again, but in a less rocking and dancable way than the first song. It's kind of like the band plays more for itself than the audience this time. "Reunion Time" chills things down again, and fuses a little more of what I associate with the Drive-By Truckers (Southern twang, basically) with the Booker T. keys. The slide guitar in concert with the keyboard fashions a beautiful sound, almost like a church song.

"Potato Hole" is where things start to grab me again, where everybody sort of gets their turn in the center of attention (a seven minute song helps to make that happen). "Space City" takes things down again, and slowly slides away, leaving you fat and happy from the generous helping of great music you've just ingested.

Potato Hole is kind of like a throwback album, a record made for real music fans, where the songs might work well by themselves, but are far better in sequence, where they can feed off each other and grow into something all too uniquely themselves. It's a great experience, this album, and one I think many, many people should seek out.

As great as these songs are on the record, I imagine they'd be even better live. I'll have to make my way out to Salt Lake in September to see. Wish me luck.

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