This is the sixth album by the MG’s who are in many respects representative of the finest in American popular music. Although they are solo recording artists in their own right, they cannot be seen out of the context of the Stax-Volt Company. This company typifies the synthesis of the best in American music. It is music that is universal and unafraid to borrow from sources black, white or brown. Otis Redding, the most popular Stax performer was no mere ‘soul singer’ but a man in whom the best aspects of blues, country, rock and even show biz music were exhibited. This borrowing and exchanging of musical influences is exactly what characterizes the usually ‘white’ rock music. The difference between ‘rock’ and ‘soul’ are only in to what proportion those influences are mixed. In America we have many ‘pure’ musical forms such as gospel, bluegrass and so on. One of the places where these forms mix and meet and change are Booker T and the MGs.
Soul Limbo contains tunes from England, America, the North, the South and everywhere in between. It contains no rough or ragged edges. It is their most sophisticated offering to date, and this from a group who to many in the business are the embodiment or professionalism and good taste. The foundation is the rhythm section, and the MG’s have one that its totally solid. Al Jackson’s drum lines are always firm and inventive, especially on such things as the intro to their version of “Foxy Lady” where Jackson brings the beats up to just the right intensity. Duck Dunn’s bass is simple and essential. On “Foxy Lady” it is appropriately fuzzed-out and hard, while on “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy” it is as smooth as it should be. He pays much attention to the tone of his bass rather than tricky runs, and consequently it provides the right tonal coloring to each piece.
Included on the album is a version of “Eleanor Rigby.” The MG’s have taken a song of classical grounding and rearrange it radically around Steve Cropper’s guitar. The simplicity of many of his runs and his restraint make him a joy to hear after the pointless and deafening solos of so many rock ‘virtuosi.’ On “Eleanor Rigby” he uses a wah-wah pedal to produce a sad and brooding sound, building to a fierce climax. Cropper excels also on “Heads or Tails” where by intelligent slides and note bending he makes the whole song really elastic and bouncy in a way reminiscent of the earlier “Hip Hug Her.”
Two numbers show off Booker T. Jones’ piano playing. The first is the bluesy “Willow Weep For Me” on which he plays some delightful right hand runs in a classic style, offsetting this with strong bass chording from the left. “Over Easy” is in a more modern style with a lot of swing and bursts of keyboard enthusiasm towards the fade. We should hear more piano from Jones. The organ is as excellent as always on this album, but being his featured instrument for six albums the piano is more refreshing.
If during the seven years this group has been together you have never bought any of their albums such as Hip Hug Her or remember them vaguely as the group that did “Green Onions” then you have been missing a lot. From their first album to “Soul Limbo” there is a steady introduction of new ideas and sophistications into their music and studio playing. As a result they typify the best in electric and funky American music.