The Complete Stax Singles, Vol. 2

Booker T. & the MG's

(LP - Real Gone Music #1279)

Review by Thom Jurek

Given their role as Stax's house band, Booker T. & the MG's played on virtually every hit by the label's defining artists, among them Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Carla Thomas, Sam & Dave, and hitmaking bluesman Albert King. As recording artists in their own right, they notched 12 Pop and 15 R&B hits during their tenure at Stax. The band's compilations are numerous, but there are a few necessary selections for hardcore fans: The three-disc, 61-track Time Is Tight (issued in 1998 and subsequently reissued in Europe) somewhat haphazardly highlights the band's entire history, including their two reunions, but even better are the two Complete Stax Singles volumes from Real Gone Music. Vol. 1 appeared in 2019 and contains 29 tracks from 1962 to 1967. The 20 tracks on Vol. 2 pick up in 1968 and run through 1974, when the band split up for the first time.

In 1968, Booker T. & the MG's had plenty of gas left in the tank. Organist/keyboardist Booker T. Jones had many sophisticated production and arrangement ideas. As such, their sound often stretched beyond basic blues grooves toward proto-jazz/funk. They had the hits to show for it, too. Two of their three Top Ten hits appear here: "Time Is Tight" (number six) and their hip cover of Domenic Frontiere's spaghetti western theme "Hang "Em High" (number nine). Further, there are several Hot 100 entries here. They include 1968's "Soul Limbo" (number 17), their 1969 read of Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" (number 37), and "Slum Baby" (number 88), as well as 1970's glorious take on the Beatles "Something" (number 76). The latter appeared on the band's classic McLemore Avenue, a track-for-track cover of the Fab Four's Abbey Road. Also included and not to be missed is 1971's oft-sampled "Melting Pot" (number 45), arguably the quartet's best single after "Green Onions." "Kinda Like Easy," its flipside, is a banger that transposes "Green Onions"' bluesy vamp and adds a scat-singing, jazz-tinged vocal chorus. The gritty psych-funk of "Fuquawi" appeared as the B-side of the calypso-tinged "Jamaica, This Morning." The latter, and four other tunes here, are credited to the MG's: After Jones and guitarist Steve Cropper left the group for the first time, drummer Al Jackson, Jr. kept the MG's going with bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn, guitarist Bobby Manuel, and organist Carson Whitsett. The five MG's tracks make up the set's stereo portion. The jazzy closing cut, "Breezy," was initially the flipside of "Neckbone," and never made the MG's lone, underrated, self-titled LP.

The Complete Stax Singles, Vol.2 was produced by Real Gone co-founder Gordon Anderson and meticulously annotated by Ed Osborne. Remastering engineer Aaron Kannowski vetted each track to assure correct use of these singles (i.e., versions played by radio DJs). Like its predecessor, Vol. 2 is essential. The remarkably consistent quality presents an adventurous musicality that preserves and extends the band's inimitable groove quotient. You need them both.