Steve Cropper / Felix Cavaliere

Midnight Flyer

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A second outing from 1960s icons Steve Cropper of the MG's and Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals, following 2008’s fine, Stax-grooving Nudge It Up a Notch, Midnight Flyer builds on the same retro-soul template. Again the playing is impeccable, with Cropper delivering the precise, tonally perfect guitar leads he’s done his whole impressive career, while Cavaliere still has an expressively soulful voice and a wonderfully natural and joyous sense of phrasing, and track after track here starts like it’s going to burn the house down. That the house escapes with nothing more than mild smoke damage is the real surprise. The problem is the songwriting. Most of these tracks were written by either Cropper or Cavaliere, or both together (there are a couple of covers, most notably one of Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain”), and while everything sounds great, the songs shade into the generic. It’s telling that the most memorable and grooving track is the last one, “Do It Like This,” which is really an MG's-like instrumental with occasional vocal interjections. Even the version here of “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” while certainly competent and well-sung and -played, somehow doesn’t resonate like it should, lacking most of the desperate, haunting urgency of Peebles’ original. It’s frustrating, really, because both of these artists can still deliver the goods, and the assembled band has a wonderful, deep south Stax groove going for it. The songs just aren’t here. It’s as simple as that.

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