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Stacks of Stax
on 11 May 2013
This collection comprises the first five 'proper' studio albums by the Stax house band, Booker T. and the MG's (there was also a live album shared with the Markeys and a Christmas album), which makes it indispensable to anyone with an interest in the genre. The first, Green Onions, was recorded to capitalise on the surprise hit single, Green Onions, and was Stax's first non-compilation album, recorded in 1962. Three group originals were fleshed out with versions of contemporary hits.
It was three years before the excellent follow-up, Soul Dressing, which, with the exception of Don Covay's Mercy Mercy, was completely original material. As it was less commercially successful future Booker T. albums returned to the format of the first album, with more non-original material. Five of the tracks were made available on singles, including Outrage, on which I believe William Allan depped for Booker T. Jones. Plum Nellie was augmented by the Memphis Horns, so it was technically a Markeys track. During 1965 their bass-player Lewis Steinberg was replaced by Donald 'Duck' Dunn, and he plays on an unspecified handful of newer tracks, although the composer credits still go to Lewis Steinberg. This was also of interest sociologically as the band was now half white and half black at a time when such integration was rare.
And Now! was therefore the first full album to have Donald 'Duck' Dunn on bass. It was also the first to be released in mono and stereo (the first two had been re-released in electronically re-channelled stero, but are thankfully in mono in this set). This CD utilizes stereo mixes, with the exception of Think which is mono. Think is a nod to Steve Cropper's main inspiration, Lowman Pauling, who wrote it and played guitar on the Five Royales' original. On some editions of the album the single My Sweet Potato was replaced by its B-side, Booker-Loo; this is not the case here.
Hip Hug-Her and Doin' Our Thing, from 1967 and 1968, contain some fine playing and conform to the same formula, well-recorded and played with polish, but perhaps sometimes lacking the verve and fire of earlier pieces. Most of each of the albums were recorded in a single day, with a couple of highlights such as Summertime (a masterpiece), Hip Hug-Her and The Beat Goes On having been stockpiled from earlier sessions. No singles were released from Doin' Our Thing. Their version of the Supremes' You Keep Me Hanging On clearly derives from the more contemporary revival by Vanilla Fudge. At the end of You Don't Love Me, Steve Cropper can be heard singing the refrain, the only voice heard throughout the 5 CDs, apart from the occasional grunt, as on the song Green Onions.
Printed information is sparse as the facsimile cardboard sleeves are not of the original vinyl albums but of the 1992 CD re-issues by Rhino, whose information was in the card insert instead.