R&B Legend Booker T Jones gives L.A. Album Release Concert

Booker T & Friends L.A. Show is Like A “See Saw”
by A. Scott Galloway

Memphis-born Rhythm & Blues legend Booker T. Jones held court with a Tuesday June 25th album release concert/videotaping at the El Rey Theater in Mid-Wilshire Los Angeles to coincide with the in-store date of his new album, Sound The Alarm, which marks his return to the latest incarnation of Stax Records (via Concord). Co-produced by Jones with soul sons The Avila Brothers, the 12-song CD hiply bridges both retro and contemporary musical directions plus features guests on all but two selections. That treatment was also given to the concert – a show that much like the Don Covay/Steve Cropper song made famous by Aretha, was like a “See Saw” in terms of what worked and what did not work.

Booker T - Sound The Alarm

What worked was Booker T either helming instrumentals or supporting guest singers with a rhythm section mirroring the organ-bass-guitar-drums lineup of the original MGs plus a three piece horn section – all tight. The air literally crackled (with due props to the sound engineers) when L.A. conguero Poncho Sanchez commandeered the stage to reprise his role from the album on the infectious “66 Impala” followed by a sweet look back to the MG’s staple “Soul Limbo” (a song Booker says has been adopted as an official theme for the sport of cricket overseas). Also rousing was a song that Booker composed for he and his guitarist son Ted Jones to play titled “Father Son Blues” and, of course, a mean swing through his mother of all classics “Green Onions,” boldly played in the middle of the set instead of saving it for the finale.

The male vocalists were strong. Joshua Ledet came off strongest with a powerful rendition of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” Jay James was also good with the melodic and mid-tempo “Broken Heart.” Anthony Hamilton, a superlative writer and singer, seemed to be taking it easy intensity-wise singing his ballad from Sound the Alarm, “Gently,” as well as Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ on the) Dock of the Bay.”

The ladies didn’t fare as positively. They were teamed with Booker for duets and neither one worked. First was Kori Withers, introduced to the stage by her father Bill Withers who, of course, everyone wanted to sing but did not. The connection here is Booker T produced Bill’s 1971 debut LP Just As I Am. The effect was intended to be a sort of passing of the torch but that kind of lightning was not to be seen. Kori, who has a lovely but nowhere near R&B singing voice, delivered a pleasant nod to her daddy by singing “Ain’t No Sunshine” but was also saddled with the task of reprising the new duet “Watch You Sleeping” from the record with Booker. The effect was not only without chemistry it bordered on creepy. The usually awe-inspiring Ledisi fared even worse when she came out to sing The Staples Singers’ saucy Curtis Mayfield-penned lovemaking classic “Let’s Do It Again” with Booker. Forget chemistry…the burners weren’t even lit under the beakers for this one.  Seemingly ill-acquainted with the song (not to mention his guest who he misidentified as being a Stax label mate to which she politely corrected that she recorded for Verve), Booker stretched the late, great Pops Staples’ cooler than cool 16 bars into 32, had zip-zero game and when all that was through, tried to engage “Led” in some improvisational vocal seduction that came off like baby talk in two different languages. Maybe they should have done “Respect Yourself” instead…

With the music legends we have left on this planet, it is important that they be uplifted and showcased. However, they by now clearly have lanes in which they should throttle their Impalas. On this night it was evident (and will continue to be depending on what happens with what was filmed) that Mr. Jones and his crack band should stick with bandstand GPS and vocal support, and leave the frontline mechanics to those fully equipped.

A. Scott Galloway
Music Editor
The Urban Music Scene

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