Review: Booker T. and the M.G.'s — McLemore Avenue (Stax Re-issue)

The legendary Stax house band pays tribute to Abbey Road
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Booker T. & The M.G.s - McLemore AvenueBooker T. and the M.G.'s cut their teeth as the house band for Stax Records, backing legendary soul and R&B acts such as Otis Redding and Sam & Dave and helping to define the Memphis sound. They also released a number of instrumental singles and albums, but it was keyboardist Booker T. Jones' interest in the Beatles that led the band to one of their more ambitious projects, McLemore Avenue.

McLemore Avenue pays tribute to the Beatles' Abbey Road, both in terms of the songs (They cover the majority of the album) and the cover, which features the band walking across McLemore Avenue, the street Stax Records was on. The band lends its familiar R&B touch to the tracks, making an interesting listen for both Booker T. and Beatles fans alike.

The album opens with the "Golden Slumbers" medley with Jones' organ replacing Paul McCartney's vocals, giving the song a laid back, almost church feel. On "The End," drummer Al Jackson, Jr. extends the famous drum break, trading off with Jones' keyboard bursts leading into some inspired, bluesy soloing by guitarist Steve Cropper.

The band gives "Come Together" a swamp-like groove, while "Something" starts straightforward, with Jones' on piano, before veering off into a funky break foreshadowing the Rolling Stones on "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" one year later. It's the most experimental of the tracks here and a highlight of the disc.

"Because" and "You Never Give me Your Money" are combined into another medley, with the former getting a dreamy, near-Pink Floyd treatment and the latter staying truer to the original's bouncy, pop arrangement.

The album culminates with John Lennon's classic, "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," beginning with Cropper mimicking the original's famous guitar lick while Jones' replicates the famous chorus on his organ. While not besting the original, it's a powerful version nonetheless.

The expanded CD features a number of Beatles covers the M.G.'s recorded over the years including a version of "Day Tripper" that sounds as if it could have been a CCR outtake and a psychedelic take on "Eleanor Rigby," with Cropper's guitar drenched in wah.

The Beatles have been covered countless times over the years, but rarely in such a unique fashion and by such a talented band. McLemore Avenue is more than a cover album — it's an interpretation of some of popular music's greatest songs by one of its greatest bands.