BOOKER T & THE MG’S: ‘Green Onions’ & ‘Soul Dressing’/’And Now!’ & ‘In The Christmas Spirit’/’Hip Hug-Her & ‘Doin’ Our Thing’ (Edsel)

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Booker_2Booker_3The early 1960s was a time of racial strife and turmoil in the USA as the Civil Rights movement gained momentum under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King. Down in Memphis – right in the very southern heartland of the racist ‘white knights,’ the Ku Klux Klan – there was a pioneering rhythm and blues group called Booker T & The MG’s whose interracial make-up defied any notions of racial segregation and disharmony. Led by organist, Booker T. Washington, the band comprising guitarist Steve Cropper, bassist Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn and drummer Al Jackson, were Stax Records’ session men who  broke into the big time with their seminal instrumental smash, ‘Green Onions,’ in 1962. Not only was it a US R&B #1 but it was profoundly instrumental and over in the UK, it prompted one R&B fan, a certain Mr. Georgie Fame, to take up the Hammond organ. Though it was Booker T & The MG’s most famous song this batch of reissues cogently illustrate that the Memphis quartet were no one-trick pony.

‘Green Onions’ spawned an album of the same name – as well as an inferior sequel, ‘Mo’ Onions’ -and it’s paired with their second Stax LP, 1963’s ‘Soul Dressing’ by Edsel for a series of three ‘twofer’ reissues. Both albums are of their time in that they contain a sprinkling of singles and are bolstered with ‘filler,’ which are covers of hit songs of the day (these include an unlikely retread of Acker Bilk’s ‘Stranger On The Shore,’ a groovy take on Mel Torme’s ‘Comin’ Home Baby’ and a revved up version of the Isley Brothers’ ‘Twist & Shout).’ Though some of these tracks were cut to pad out their albums, the MG’s show amazing versatility given the stylistic range of  the material on offer.

The same ‘hits an’ covers’ formula defines 1966’s ‘And Now!’ – their first charting album in the US R&B charts – which yielded the hit ‘My Sweet Potato.’ It’s paired up with the Yuletide album, ‘In The Christmas Spirit,’ from 1967, comprising soul-infused covers of hoary old Xmas chestnuts. It’s got four bonus cuts appended to it, including the non-album hit single from ’65, ‘Boot Leg.’

The final twofer combines ’67’s ‘Hip Hug-Her’ with the following year’s ‘Doin’ Our Thing.’ The former album’s title cut was the combo’s biggest US hit since ‘Green Onions’ five years earlier. The set was also distinguished by a Top 10 US R&B revamp of the Young Rascals’ ‘Groovin’.’ In contrast, ‘Doin’ Our Thing’ failed to spawn any hit singles but witnesses the group putting their own unique imprimatur on  songs by Ray Charles (‘Let’s Go Get Stoned’), The Supremes (‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’), and Bobbie Gentry (‘Ode To Billy Joe’). Appended to the two albums are a couple of bonus cuts, including the single B-side, ‘Summertime.’

Comprehensive liner notes by the ever-dependable Tony Rounce as well as fresh studio mastering reveal that these reissues have had more care and attention lavished on them from Edsel than Rhino could muster with the MG’s back catalogue on their 2012 no-frills ‘Original Album Series’ set. No serious scholar of ’60s rhythm and blues should be without these.

(CW) 4/5