Stax was a record label that was in dire straights in 1968. Otis Redding was dead, the label unknowingly had a distribution deal with Atlantic Records,and their recorded catalog from beforehand was no longer theirs. It was a record label with no music. Label head Al Bell had a spiralingly ambitious plan of action-to record over twenty albums and rebuild the catalog that had been lost. Interestingly enough this all happened at a time when soul music was going through some of its most vital transitions. The music was moving from the gospel inspired soul that defined Stax and all Southern Soul in general into the genre they were already helping to create-funk. Stax's original house band Booker T & The MG's were beginning to tire a bit-even to the point of operating in shifts,and the result was severe overwork for the band members. Somhow however,this relatively obscure soundtrack finds them stretching out into some often unexpected musical directions.
"Johnny,I Love You" is a Ray Charles like soul shuffle with Booker T himself providing the vocals that relate to the platonic brotherly love felt by members of a gang of young men. "Cleveland Now" takes a musical direction not dissimilar to what Santana were beginning to do at this time: fuse Afro-Cuban percussion with heavy organ soloing. "Children Don't Get Weary" is an eerily stark gospel infused ballad sung by Judy Clay. "Tank's Lament" is actually a temp-less adjunct featuring the organ melody of "Time Is Tight" while "Blues In The Gutter",the rocking "We've Got Johnny Wells" and "Run Tank Run" combine the bands precise soul with this sense of cinematic orchestration that mildly anticipates what Isaac Hayes would be doing a year later. "Deadwood Dick" is a number with some very peculiar harmonics to it-one of the most daring and original of their compositions. Than there's "Time Is Tight",the bands most famous latter day hit and actually one of my favorites in that regard.
In many ways this serves a similar function for the MG's as 'Mr.Mean' would for The Ohio Players a decade later. Interestingly enough,this soundtrack came along just before the Blackspoitation really took off and the Ohio Players' contribution came near the film genres end. However in both cases the music showcased both bands utilizing the film soundtrack score as a means to advance their sound with different styles not normally associated with them. The brilliance of Booker T.Jones as he arranges,conducts and generally scores this entire film with a strong,soulful brilliance that relies heavily on feeling and atmosphere than the more dramatic end of human emotion. I have this feeling that,as an album project it was not particularly popular. And is likely still considered a relatively minor part of the Booker T & The MG's musical catalog. Yet for anyone seeking to discover a good vantage point of where Southern Soul met up with the cinematic funk era before Isaac Hayes,this is not a bad place to look.