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Music Review: Booker T. & The M.G.’s – McLemore Ave.

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This is about as hip as it gets. Booker T. & the M.G.’s covering Abbey Road by The Beatles? Genius! Surprisingly, the project even lives up to everything I had hoped it would – and my expectations were pretty high.

First of all, there’s the cover art. Booker T., Steve Cropper, Donald “Duck” Dunn, and Al Jackson Jr. are crossing McLemore Ave. right in front of the Stax studios in Memphis. Unlike the pristine Abbey Road (where the EMI Studios were), McLemore Ave. is a pretty funky street funky as in rough and the guys themselves look pretty badass too.

On McLemore Ave., the band have taken the Abbey Road LP apart and rearranged it into a series of medleys. Is it mop-top faves filtered through “Green Onions?” Hardly. These guys were way too smart for anything like that. Instead what we get is likely the tightest studio group in the country putting their stamp on one of The Beatles’ greatest records of all.

You hear it immediately with the majestic, church-like organ of Booker T. playing the opening chords of “Golden Slumbers.” This beautiful beginning to what will become a 16-minute medley is followed by the crisp, unmistakable guitar of Cropper on “Carry That Weight.” Although McLemore Ave. contains minimal vocals most of it is instrumentalhearing Cropper’s guitar mimic Paul McCartney’s voice during the song is an early highlight.

Ringo Starr’s famous drum break is referenced, before the group play the original’s closer, “The End.” But this is Booker T. & The M.G.’s version, not The Beatles’. Here, “The End” means nothing of the sort, as the next piece of the medley is “Here Comes The Sun.” Bringing home the five-song suite is a stellar “Come Together.”

There are two more, fairly similar medleys on McLemore Ave., and each are brilliant as well. The only Abbey Road cut singled out for a full-length treatment is George Harrison’s “Something,” which (like the rest of the album) is outstanding.

This remastered CD reissue is generous with bonus cuts as well. The additional six tracks are “Day Tripper,” “Michelle,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Lady Madonna,” and two versions of “You Can’t Do That.”

Booker T. & The M.G.’s were one of the very few groups who have ever been able to add something special to the music of The Beatles. McLemore Ave. is quite simply one of the coolest reissues of the year.

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About Greg Barbrick