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Friday, July 5, 2013

Booker T and The M.G.'s, "Melting Pot"

Booker T and The M.G.'s
"Melting Pot"
Stax (1971)

1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die

Booker T. Jones was tired of Stax, which was a major problem for the label. If you follow music news, you know that big acts switch brands all the time. The problem for Stax is that the label not only produced the albums of Booker T and The M.G.'s, but the M.G.'s were also its house band. We can iron out the relevance of Booker T without even looking at the album "Melting Pot." The band played for just about every record that the Memphis funk and soul label put out. Otis Redding, Issac Hayes, Albert King. They got around.

So when Booker T moved to California and guitarist Steve Cropper opened his own studio in 1971, it was a cause for concern for Stax. For The M.G.'s, it wasn't that big a deal. They opted to record their new album in New York City instead of Memphis.

The benefit to being a house band is that you should be able to play a number of genres competently. The M.G.'s could play all the styles Stax needed - blues, soul, R&B, funk - and it doesn't seem like they had a preference. "Chicken Pox" opens with a loping blues riff, but quickly becomes something more funky when Booker T jumps in on the organ. His Hammond-playing for "Back Home" is more reminiscent of Memphis gospel however.

Even if the genre isn't consistent, this band is as steady as you'll find. Solo artists that were using the M.G.'s as a backup band didn't want Booker or Cropper adding flair or tearing off on solos (which they were perfectly capable of doing). Therefore the ability to hold a steady rhythm was more important to the M.G.'s than most bands. Loads of credit goes to drummer Al Jackson Jr., nicknamed "The Human Timekeeper." Check out the introductory riffs to most songs on this album: His beats are automatic to the point of robotic, without the inorganic taste drum machines leave in your ears.

The ability to hold a beat had always been the calling card of the M.G.'s however. "Melting Pot" was a change of pace because the guys decided that they'd break free from the role they were renowned for. Just about every song features a pair of solos from both Booker T and Cropper, and the best are the long jams, opener "Melting Pot" and "Kinda Easy Like." Even though the two stars go off on their jams, you'll note that each song starts with the laying down of a base theme.

One thing the band never got, even when releasing its own records, was a vocalist. As such, most of the tracks on "Melting Pot" are instrumentals, and that's for the best. The wordless vocals employed on "Kinda Easy Like" and "L.A. Jazz Song" are comical, almost a distraction from the main show. For the rest of the album, the band keeps its formula for success intact, and its musical formula based in Memphis even if the group isn't.

INTERESTING FACT: The "M.G.'s" stands for the MG sports car driven by Stax producer Chips Morman. The label spread word it simply stood for "Memphis Group" to avoid copyright issues with the MG Car Company Limited.

Melting Pot by Booker T. & The MG's on Grooveshark

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