Various Artists

Stax Instrumentals

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None of the 1960s Stax Records instrumentals on this compilation were previously issued. As they're almost evenly split between cuts by Booker T. & the MG's and the Mar-Keys, they represent a major find not only for fans of those acts, but for soul and instrumental rock fans in general. That's not to say it's a great record, as some of the cuts are basic and repetitive, and/or share notable similarities with hit records by either the artists themselves or others. There are some hot grooves here, though, more often than not the work of Booker T. & the MG's, who after all were a much longer-lived and better outfit than the Mar-Keys. Dating is imprecise on all of these tracks, and the ones by Booker T. & the MG's were done at various points throughout the 1960s, though Steve Cropper believes that most of them date from before 1967. There's some fine prototypically simmering mood music among their 13 cuts, such as "Let's Go" and "Ain't It." There are also sometimes slight deviations from the expected prototype, as in the Cropper slide guitar work on "Slidin'" and the jazz aspirations of "Jazzy." An alternate of "Tic Tac Toe" probably provides the only familiar tune on the CD. The Mar-Keys' dozen songs can be more precisely dated, though only in a general sense: Most are from the early '60s, and all are from before 1965. They were far more inclined to brassy, less imaginative frat-like rock & roll than Booker T. & the MG's, and as a consequence their half of the platter is less interesting. But it's not bad, and in fact is often respectably sassy early-'60s instrumental soul-rock, though more of their offerings are likely to fall into imitative/derivative riffs (sometimes of themselves; "Blue Peanut" sounds like an attempt to clone "Last Night" with some variation). With knowledgeable liner notes including comments by Cropper and the Mar-Keys' Wayne Jackson, this is a good investment for those who love the early Stax sound.

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