What of a predominantly instrumental soul group called the Bo-Keys? Well, the wordplay on two classic Memphis soul bands, the Mar-Keys and the Bar-Kays, might be off-putting if it weren't for the fact they are from Memphis. But that's just the starting point: While the band is led by Scott Bomar, the 28-year-old bass player from the Impalas, two of its members, drummer Willie Hall and B-3 boss Ronnie Williams, played with the legendary Bar-Kays' Isaac Hayes, and David Porter; Charles Pitts, the guitar player, is the wah-wah guy on "Theme From Shaft" and Rufus Thomas' "Funky Chicken." Finally, this set is called The Royal Sessions because it was recorded live from the floor in Willie Mitchell's Royal Studios in Memphis, with him hanging out during the sessions. So the pedigree is there. Bomar also added the horn section of Memphians Marc Franklin and Jim Spake to the proceedings, both of them veterans of Al Green's and Bobby "Blue" Bland's outfits, and veteran percussionist Hector Diaz, as well. Musically, this is funky, greasy, gritty soul, rooted in the tradition, but is timeless in its heat-seeking groove stealth. The Bo-Keys write killer tunes, with lots of stinging guitar, wailing organ and in-the-pocket backbeats -- check "Deuce and a Quarter," "Seven and 7," the souled-out Latin-flavored funk of "Spanish Delight," the bassed-up bluesy horn stroll in "Under the Table," or the trippy, in-the-mud organ and percussion funk orgy "Bling Bling," that closes the album. In addition, they cover some of the classics, such as Jimmy Smith's jukebox groover "Back at the Chicken Shack," and James Brown's "Doin' It to Death." This is the real stuff made by cats who have been doin' it all their lives; it is the perfect disc for that time when the party kicks into overdrive, or for cruising the boulevard, or whatever gives you pleasure. It also signifies that with the arrival of the great young soulmen and women on the scene -- Ellis Hooks, Joss Stone, and Ricky Fanté to name three -- that something akin to a real revival is on the good foot in the early part of the 21st century.
Royal Sessions Review
by Thom Jurek