Album review: Booker T. Jones' 'The Road From Memphis'
Booker T. Jones, the great soul organist and session player, seems on this latest outing uninterested in flashing his celebrated chops merely to dazzle listeners. Half a century into a career best known for his work with those other Memphis studio pros collectively known as the MG’s, Jones quietly seduces his audience with the soul and funk that dominate this follow-up to his 2009 Grammy-winning collection, “Potato Hole.”
He’s joined by Lou Reed, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, and Sharon Jones, but "The Road From Memphis" isn’t a showcase for his all-star pals. Instead, it’s about Jones’ ever-sinuous way around the keyboard of his Hammond B-3, which sings, purrs, moans and shouts with often near-human expressivity, under his skilled touch.
The songs run the gamut of R&B, focused on, but not limited to, the sounds of Memphis, from the funky stroll of “Walking Papers” to the sultry '70s slide of “Progress,” for which James takes the lead vocal on this low-key ode to the idea that better times await. In “Down in Memphis,” a track as culturally noteworthy as Marcel Marceau’s one-word line in Mel Brooks’ “Silent Movie,” Jones proves he does indeed own a pair of vocal cords, singing elegantly about his beloved hometown. Even Reed gets to take a stroll in his soul shoes in — where else? — “The Bronx.”
Jones makes a quietly convincing case that when it comes to soul music, all roads do seem to lead to Memphis.
-- Randy Lewis
Booker T. Jones
“The Road From Memphis”
Three stars out of four
Jones will appear Thursday night at the Grammy Museum for a performance and Q&A session with the museum’s executive director, Robert Santelli. 8 p.m. $20.