Thursday, 13 August 2015

"McLemore Avenue" by BOOKER T. & THE M.G.'S (2011 "Stax Remasters" Expanded CD Reissue) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Here Comes The Sun King..." 

Like "Electric Mud" by Muddy Waters, "McLemore Avenue" by Booker T. & The M.G.'s divided fans and critics alike at the time of release - and has done ever since. Some call it a masterpiece - even visionary - while others see it as little more than an opportunistic cash-in that only half worked in Stax's otherwise impressively individualistic canon of releases. More than 40 years after the event - I think it's fair enough to call it a bit of both - good and bad (much like this new reissue actually). Here are the details...

Released May 2011, Concord Music Group, Inc 0888072328747 breaks down as follows (59:03 minutes):

1. Medley: Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End/Here Comes The Sun/Come Together
2. Something
3. Because/You Never Give Me Your Money
4. Medley: Sun King/Mean Mr. Mustard/Polythene Pam/She Came In Through The Bathroom Window/I Want You (She's So Heavy)

Tracks 1 to 4 are the album "McLemore Avenue" released April 1970 in the USA on Stax Records STS 2027 and July 1970 in the UK on Stax SXATS 1031

Tracks 5 to 10 are all Beatles covers - 5 and 6 are "You Can't Do That" and "Day Tripper" from the late 60s album "Soul Men"; 7 and 9 are "Michelle" and "Lady Madonna" from the 1969 album "The Booker T. Set"; 8 is "Eleanor Rigby" from the 1968 album "Soul Limbo" - while track 10 is a PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED (Alternate Take) of "You Can't Do That" (recorded late 60s).

The new 12-page booklet has very knowledgeable and affectionate liner notes by ASHLEY KHAN (author of books on the recording career of John Coltrane and Miles Davis). You also get the original artwork and production credits, a collage of 2 photos on the inlay beneath the see-through tray and the disc itself pictures the group too. But it's a shame the booklet doesn't go any further - there's no new photos, no memorabilia - not even a picture of the lone 7" single of "Something" (US or UK). It makes the inlay feel workmanlike at best - even a little dull - when it should have spread its wings a little. But the big news is the SOUND...

I bought and recently reviewed another title in this new "Stax Remasters" series - "Be Altitude: Respect Yourself" by The Staples Singers and I duly raved about the fabulous sound quality on that after years of lacklustre reissues in jewel cases and repro digipaks. This is the same. 24-bit remastered from the first generation tapes by JOE TARANTINO at Joe Tarantino Mastering in Berkeley, California - the audio quality is truly GORGEOUS - absolutely incredible clarity that will make you reassess every song.

To the music - it probably seemed like a good idea at the time - "McLemore Avenue" would cover the recently released "Abbey Road" album by The Beatles (September 1969) and do it all in that distinctive Booker T & The M.G.'s instrumental style. They even aped the famous UK album sleeve and wittily called it after the street on which the Stax Studios resided in Memphis.  They also realigned the 17-songs of the original LP into four new tracks - three lengthy Medleys and one straight up shorter cover of "Something" (which was actually released as a 45 on both sides of the pond to some success). The problem for me is that of the four tracks only two really work - "Something" and the "Because/You Never Give Me Your Money" Medley. The playing and clever interpretation on each is superb. On the other two however - I feel the band sounds way too close to a poor man's Procol Harum without the vocals. But again I must reiterate that if you have any affection for these songs, you 'need' to hear them on this stunningly good new remaster.

Of the five bonus covers - the best is undoubtedly Track 5 - the first version of "You Can't Do That" (from "A Hard Day's Night") - it's really excellent. Unfortunately the cuts of "Day Tripper", "Michelle" and "Lady Madonna" don't fare so well - barely rising above a bar-band doing cheesy Lounge versions of famous Beatles songs - it's not good. The last track is an (Alternate Take) of "You Can't Do That" which is a lot rougher than the first and not as good either.

Too sum up - I wasn't prepared for two things on this reissue - the truly astonishingly remaster by Joe Tarantino - and secondly how it transformed the listen and made me reassess what I had formerly thought of as an anomaly - an LP on Stax best avoided.

If you're a fan of the record - this is no-brainer - it's an absolute must-own. If you're like me and aren't particularly bothered, I'd still say give "Something" and the "Because/You Never Give Me Your Money" Medley a try on iTunes - you'll be more than impressed...

PS: titles in the "STAX REMASTERS" series are (all reviewed):

1. Green Onions - BOOKER T. & THE M.G.'s (1962)
2. McLemore Avenue - BOOKER T. & THE M.G.'s (1970)
3. Woman To Woman - SHIRLEY BROWN (1974)
4. Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get - THE DRAMATICS (1972)
5. Born Under A Bad Sign - ALBERT KING (1967)
6. I'll Play The Blues For You - ALBERT KING (1971)
7. Be Altitude: Respect Yourself - THE STAPLE SINGERS (1972)
8. Taylored In Silk - JOHNNIE TAYLOR (1973)
9. Do The Funky Chicken - RUFUS THOMAS (1969)

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