Booker T. & The M.G.s – Green Onions (Stax, 1962/2012)
Booker T. & The M.G.s’ 1962 debut LP couldn’t possibly live up to the invention and excitement of its title single, but it doesn’t have to, as even without the catchy hooks of their hits, the band’s soul grooves cut deep. With only three originals (“Green Onions,” the cooler variation, “Mo’ Onions,” and the exquisite late-night organ blues, “Behave Yourself”), the Stax house band was left to pull together cover songs from a wide variety of sources. They give instrumental hits by Dave “Baby” Cortez (“Rinky-Dink”) and Phil Upchurch (“Can’t Sit Down”) solid shots of Memphis soul, and though Acker Bilk’s “Stranger on the Shore” could be the last slow dance of the evening in a restaurant’s cocktail lounge, Steve Cropper’s guitar still manages to add some flavor. More impressive are his chops on Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman” and Jones’ soulful chords and lightning-fast single notes on “Lonely Avenue.” The original track lineup closes with a wonderful take on the jazz tune “Comin’ Home Baby,” with both Jones and Cropper shining brightly. The 2012 reissue includes a 12-page booklet featuring full-panel front- and back-cover shots, Bob Altshuler’s original liners and new notes from Rob Bowman. Also included are hot live takes of “Green Onions” and “Can’t Sit Down,” recorded in stereo in 1965 and originally released on Funky Broadway: Stax Revue Live at the 5/4 Ballroom. Though Booker T. & The M.G.s are best known for their hits (e.g., The Very Best Of) and the Stax singles they powered for others, their original albums hold many lesser-known charms that will delight ‘60s soul fans.