Booker T. Jones, still occasionally of Booker T. and the MGs, reminded us of his mastery of the Hammond B3 two years ago with Potato Hole, which satisfied all Memphis R&B receptors in the human mind and body. Jones always shows us how less is more—a lesson still lost on many musicians, not to mention many multitasking Americans in general. He brushes away our weak-tea interconnectivity and forces us to focus. Here, he pushes a few more keys to flesh out a chord; here, he answers himself with a second melody line in the background.
The Road from Memphis sags just a tad under the burden of his guest stars. When Sharon Jones and the National’s Matt Berninger join vocal forces for “Representing Memphis,” she’s subdued but soulful in a just-woke-up tone; he signifies too earnest by a few fingers, as if cutting a public service spot. Yim Yames of My Morning Jacket effortlessly grabs a tough edge, that point in “Progress” where the sun peeks over the horizon of despair. Jones takes the mic for a rare vocal turn and turns “Down in Memphis” into a knowing travelogue. Unlike Berninger, he’s got mixed feelings about tour-guiding, so he hints at where a few bodies are buried.
Then there’s Lou Reed, who makes very little sense intoning about “The Bronx” on a Memphis concept record, but always keep your ears on the band and this one won’t disappoint. Jones sat illuminating the inner groove of “Eleanor Rigby” before drummer/producer Questlove was born; here he passes the torch and blazes the trail like it’s the easiest one-two punch in the ring.