Following Booker T Jones’ 2009 Anti- release Potato Hole which won the Grammy for “Best Pop Instrumental Album,” the B-3 legend returns with The Road From Memphis. Produced by Jones with The Roots’ ?uestlove and Rob Schnapf (Beck, Elliot Smith), Memphis was recorded by Daptone Records mastermind Gabriel Roth with backing by The Roots.
The Road From Memphis opens with “Walking Papers,” a head-bobbing celebratory ditty with a driving beat and spacious grooves reminiscent of a track from Galactic. Booker T. leads the group through the song’s changes but ?uestlove shines with the textural percussive work that keeps things fresh.
“Crazy,” a nod to Gnarls Barkley’s 2006 hit, works well as Booker T. is particularly expressive on keys, articulating a worthy counterpoint to vocals from the original. Yim Yames lends his vocals to “Progress,” a light, slower pop-soul number that works on occasion. Instinctively, the vocals seem a bit misplaced but further listens reveal its utility as an unhurried respite from the quick snap of other tracks.
Throughout the album, ?uestlove more than proves his mettle as a world-class drummer with well-chosen breaks and fills that elevate tracks like “The Hive” and “Everything is Everything” that would otherwise be just okay. Booker T. proves more than capable on vocals, leading the band through “Down in Memphis” and fares even better trading lines with Sharon Jones in another tribute to his hometown, “Representing Memphis.” Lou Reed rounds out the cavalcade of guest singers with the album-closing “The Bronx.” Unfortunately the group whiffs in its final at bat, as the song drifts past in an unremarkable slumber, but nonetheless, The Road From Memphis makes for one of the stronger soul releases of the last few years.