There have been other, more wide-ranging collections of the music of Booker T & the MG's
the three-CD, sixty-five track Time Is Tight
(Stax,1998) most prominentlybut The Complete Stax Singles Volume 1 (1962-1967)
is comprehensive on its own terms. As is Real Gone Music's custom, the label has gone to great lengths to make sure the vintage packaging matches the enhanced audio content and also invoked the services of writer Ed Osborne, whose historical essay does studious and scholarly justice to the evolution of the seminal instrumental group (in doing so, noting the instrumental contributions of one Isaac Hayes, otherwise curiously omitted on the back cover credits).
As the house band for the Stax Records label and studio, Booker T & The MG's not only backed artists like Otis Redding
and Wilson Pickett
, but also solidified their own consummate taste and restraint. In doing so, the foursome keyboardist Booker T. Jones
, guitarist Steve Cropper
, drummer Al Jackson, Jr. and bassist Lewie Steinberg (the somewhat unsung member of the ensemble, replaced about halfway through this collection by the much better-known Donald "Duck" Dunn) also evoked respect from fellow musicians, some far removed from the group's own roots; Pete Townshend of The Who
, for instance, was effusive in his admiration of Cropper.
Available in both single compact disc and double LP packages, this anthology comprises over half of all the singles the foursome released during their career. Both A and B sides are assembled for the twenty-nine instrumental tracks (one of which "Mo' Onions," was issued as both, hence the odd total), a compendium that will not allow itself to become mere background music. While infectious cuts like "Green Onions" can inspire an almost non-stop dance party, more subdued selections, like this cover of the Young Rascals' "Groovin,'" are ripe for the quiet contemplation which elevates appreciation for the band's no-frills approach; their aforementioned role as accompanists no doubt rendered Jones, Cropper, Jackson and Steinberg/Dunn keenly aware of the truth in the cliché 'less is more."
Leaving room for each other to play on numbers like "Chinese Checkers" also reaffirms their touch for nuance and space. Dan Hersch's mastering highlights the delicious simplicity in the sound of Booker T & The MG's, not to mention the foursome's taste in realizing the economical arrangements. The exemplary sound quality, in fact, is as seamless as the string of cuts, fifteen of which reached the charts. Yet the continuity of style is such that even less high-profile numbers like "Boot-Leg" and "Hip Hug-Her" will sound almost as familiar to casual music-lovers as traditiional seasonal material such as "Jingle Bells" and "Silver Bells."
But "Summertime" stands out here too and not just because it hearkens to those ..."lazy hazy crazy days..." The languorous pace the musicians adopt not only evokes the intoxicating effects of sunshine, but the patience of a band never in a hurry to make a statement, one that rarely, if ever, failed to do so.
Green Onions; Behave Yourself; Jellybread; Aw' Mercy; Home Grown; Big Train; Chinese Checkers; Plum-Nellie; Fannie Mae; Mo-Onions; Tic-Tac-Toe; Soul Dressing; MG Party; Can't Be Still; Terrible Thing; Boot-Leg; Outrage; Be My Lady; Red Beans and Rice; My Sweet Potato; Booker-Loo; Jingle Bells; Winter Wonderland; Hip Hug-Her; Summertime; Groovin'; Slim Jenkin's Place; Winter Snow; Silver Bells.
Booker T. Jones: organ, piano, bass, guitar; Steve Cropper: guitar; Isaac Hayes: piano, organ; Lewie Steinberg: bass; Donald “Duck” Dunn: bass; Al Jackson, Jr.: drums