Booker T.: Potato Hole

By: Ron Hart

By all intents and purposes, legendary Stax session leader Booker T.'s long-awaited return to the studio as a recording artist should be an instant classic. I mean, come on, on paper this thing looks absolutely mind-blowing. First and foremost, it's on Epitaph Records' championed Anti- imprint, home of such maverick acts as Tom Waits, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, former Grandaddy frontman Jason Lytle, fellow Stax soul legend Mavis Staples and Neko Case, just to name a few. Secondly, backing Booker up in the studio for this album, titled Potato Hole (released April 21) after a 19th Century African-American term for the hiding spot slaves kept for food they smuggled from their owners, is none other than the mighty Neil Young taking over for MG's guitarist Steve Cropper alongside members of the Drive-By Truckers . Thirdly, you have a setlist consisting of a combination of newly penned Booker T. originals and a wild variety of covers ranging from OutKast's "Hey Ya" to Tom Waits' "Get Behind The Mule" to the Truckers' own "Space City." So with all of this momentum going for it, why does Potato Hole seem like such a lackluster listen once you finally press play on your music machine?

Though the performances here are formidable in their own right, they hardly gel like the way Booker did with the MG's on such classics as their celebrated 1967 masterpiece Hip-Hug-Her and their fiercely under-appreciated McLemore Avenue (1970), a full-tilt cover of The Beatles' Abbey Road. Young, who toured with the MG's in 1993, sounds rather inhibited here, as if he's not entirely comfortable jamming alongside the members of the Drive-By Truckers, while Booker, whose Hammond B-3 is in top form, tries valiantly to keep the conversation going like someone introducing their significant other to the parental units for the first time. While it is not entirely confirmed whose decision it was exactly to put these guys all together for this session, be it the label, Booker T himself or Potato Hole's producer Rob Schanpf (Beck, Elliott Smith, The Whigs), this set would have sounded far more cookin' had the powers that be made the decision to put Booker and Young together with MG's Cropper and bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn and one of the array of seasoned drummers Booker has worked with over the years, be it Steve Potts, Anton Fig, Steve Jordan or even someone like ?uestlove, MMW's Billy Martin or legendary session drummer Jim Keltner. Or perhaps pairing Booker T. up with the Dap-Kings would have been the really sick move. Needless to say, this rather bland Potato is in dire need of some seasoning. Maybe some "Green Onions", if you know what I'm sayin'.

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[Published on: 5/12/09]

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