BOOKER T. & THE M.G.'s: AND NOW! (1966)
1) My Sweet Potato; 2) Jericho; 3) No Matter What Shape; 4) One Mint Julep; 5) In The Midnight Hour; 6) Summertime; 7) Working In The Coal Mine; 8) Don't Mess Up A Good Thing; 9) Think; 10) Taboo; 11) Soul Jam; 12) Sentimental Journey.
The band's first complete LP with ʽDuckʼ Dunn handling bass duties, but in other respects, sort of a step backwards, since once again, most of the tunes are covers, with but two exceptions: ʽMy Sweet Potatoʼ, a showcase for Booker T.'s mastery of the electric piano, and ʽSoul Jamʼ, featuring some cool guitar/organ interplay taken at a reasonably fast tempo. Actually, ʽPotatoʼ is a pretty damn fine tune that somehow combines the «sentimental strut» of Atlantic's piano-based tunes (the opening bass melody is quite reminiscent of ʽUnder The Boardwalkʼ) with the grittier sounds of the British Invasion (some of the chords openly mimic ʽSatisfactionʼ), and should not be overlooked because of its inadequately silly title.
Covers or no covers, though, at this point in time, whenever the band gathered together in the studio they were «unstoppably listenable», so that everything here is at least as nice, tasteful, and professional as always. Every once in a while, though, there are some startling surprises — I count at least three. First, as if to poke self-conscious fun at their own self-plagiarizing, they take the old Clovers classic ʽOne Mint Julepʼ and turn it into ʽGreen Onionsʼ, with yet another small touch of ʽSatisfactionʼ serving as the mint leaf. Second, the old "walls came tumbling down" bit of ʽJerichoʼ is perfectly rendered on guitar and organ, whereupon the tune becomes an even more passionate «soul jam» than ʽSoul Jamʼ itself.
Third and most importantly, there is a really haunting, practically unique cover of ʽSummertimeʼ here, with Booker T.'s organ scaling psychedelic heights of tone, milking the tune's deep mystical potential for all its worth, while Cropper adds brief, ghostly, wailing electric licks. Of all the non-jazz, non-vocal-centered versions of this composition this one just might be the best, or at least one of the top candidates — not to mention that it is probably one of the best places to understand the totality of Booker T.'s symbiosis with his preferred instrument (at about 0:48 he almost flies away into the realm of ultra-sound with the melody).
That said, the problem remains that a lot of the tunes they cover are melodically insufficient without vocals: ʽIn The Midnight Hourʼ, for instance, was still fresh in everyone's memory as a major hit for Wilson Pickett, and without Pickett, they are unable to make it similarly exciting. Neither do they have the superb ability of an expert jazz band to take an old standard and use it as a launchpad for exploring uncharted territory — the short, concise tunes rarely stray off base, and honestly, I have little interest in hearing ʽSentimental Journeyʼ diligently played by-the-book, no matter how overall-good the Cropper/Jones sound may be.
Still, the presence of ʽJerichoʼ, ʽMy Sweet Potatoʼ, and ʽSummertimeʼ is the necessary catalyst to guarantee the record a modest thumbs up — these songs clearly indicate that the band is not «coasting», but simply suffers from preset limitations of their format, while at the same time retaining creativity and inspiration. Which is hardly surprising, seeing how Stax and Atlantic in general were so nicely adapting to the musical changes of the mid-Sixties, and entering their second (third?) wave of artistic greatness, for which the skeletal team of Booker T. & The M.G.'s was so heavily responsible when it came to supporting vocal artists.