It’s been more than twenty years since founding members Joe Sample (keyboards), Stix Hooper (drums), and Wilton Felder (saxophones) recorded together as the Crusaders. Though much proverbial water has since flowed under their bridge, with Rural Renewal the Crusaders get back to where they once belonged, straight to the heart of their joyous juke joint roots.
The first two cuts feature Eric Clapton on first acoustic and then electric guitar. The acoustic track is mostly a non-event, but his electric blues guitar seems to rejoice in the freedom of Sample’s loose-limbed “Creepin’.” Easily his most ambitious new composition, “Heartland,” may also be a new Sample classic, throbbing with turbulent rhythmic undertow while Felder swims out of the blue groove into Wayne Shorter’s more sharp harmonic and rhythmic waters.
Most of the rest, such as Sample’s “Shotgun House Groove” and Hooper’s “Greasy Spoon,” are more groovy workouts than tight constructions, with Sample’s barrelhouse boogie-woogie in “Greasy Spoon” the instrumental rule rather than the exception; Felder brandishes a rough and ready approach here like a true “Texas Renor.” They glide through their grooves, bumped along by the horns’ melodic counterpoint. Unaccredited vibraphone makes this stroll through “Lazy Sundays” sound even jauntier.
Smooth, supple Stix Hooper may be the best drummer you’ll never notice; he and fatback bassist Freddie Washington set the table for every one of these greasy spoon grooves. Sometimes their portions seem a little smaller and a little less spicy than they used to be, but this Crusaders’ menu remains tasty and satisfying.