|Recording information: East West, Hollywood, CA; Redstar, Silverlake, CA; Skip Saylor Recording, Northridge, CA; The Village Studio, Los Angeles, CA.
|Booker T. Jones has certainly put his mark on modern pop music. As part of the legendary group Booker T. & the MG's, Memphis' first integrated band, and the house band at Stax Records in the 1960s, he pretty much was in at the ground floor of the invention of soul, backing classic soul hits by Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd, William Bell, and many others, as well as generating iconic instrumental hits from the era like "Green Onions," "Time Is Tight," and numerous others with the MG's. Jones left Stax as the 1970s hit and the label was essentially falling apart, and he's drifted from label to label ever since, his legacy secure as the dominant Hammond B-3 organ player of his generation (apart from Jimmy Smith, of course). Sound the Alarm is Jones' tenth solo album since leaving Stax, and it returns him to the label, now owned by Concord Records, a dozen years and change into the 21st century. Homecomings are nice, and it makes for a nice press hook for this outing, but anyone expecting some vintage-styled Memphis soul here is going to be disappointed, because there isn't much of it. Jones, who wrote or co-wrote every song on the album, has brought in several guests to help him out, and while it isn't exactly a duets album, it's pretty close, and the focus is hardly on Jones and his playing. There are a couple of nice urban R&B love ballads like "Broken Heart," which features Jay James on vocals, and "Your Love Is No Love," done with the group Vintage Trouble and spotlighting Ty Taylor on vocals, but most of the other tracks with lead vocals have little real impact or presence. The best tracks here by far are the handful of instrumentals, including the soul-jazz-like "Feel Good," the funky and bluesy "Austin City Blues" with Gary Clark, Jr. on guitar, and the set closer, "Father Son Blues," which features Ted Jones on guitar. There's nothing wrong with trying to get a more contemporary sound and feel (the album was co-produced by Jones and brothers Bobby Ross and Issiah "IZ" Avila), of course, but when you're Booker T. Jones, maybe you shouldn't worry about that. After all, the funky soul groove template that Jones helped create in Memphis some 40-plus years ago never really goes out of style. One wishes there were more of that here. ~ Steve Leggett