The music world owes a great debt of gratitude to the men and women of Stax Records. That label played a big role in taking the Memphis style of blues-infused Southern Soul worldwide. Stax introduced the world to Otis Redding, Rufus Thomas and a host of other vocalists, but the musicians were a driving force behind that sound. Bands such as Booker T. & the MG’s provided the music on many of those tracks. That is one thing that Stax had in common with its soulful contemporary, Motown. There is one major difference: The Funk Brothers remained in the background until the documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown gave them belated but deserved fame. Stax musicians got their shine during the label’s heyday by releasing a series of instrumentals that allowed the groups to fuse their hot-buttered soul with a jazz sensibility. Consequently instrumental tunes like Booker T.
That doesn’t happen much in R&B these days. When was the last time that an instrumental song not classified as contemporary jazz got any airplay on R&B radio? Fortunately, the current music market didn’t deter the Scott Bomar and his band, The Bo-Keys from making the very good Got To Get Back. – a record where the musicians grab the spotlight away from some pretty good vocalists. Seven of the songs on Got To Get Back are instrumentals in which there are little or no vocals.
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. The Bo-Keys use their instruments to construct an image in the mind of listeners. A slow and easy cut, such as “Sundown On Beale,” has a theatrical feel. The Hammond B-3, horns and guitar work together to paint the picture of a street at rest in hours between the time that the workers have gone home and the night crowd prepares to take over. The fingering employed on “Jack and Ginger” may remind some listeners of “Green Onions.”
When the band shares space with the singers on, Got To Get Back, the Bo-Keys mine some familiar musical fields. That Mars/Venus thing was always the Memphis sound’s stock and trade, and the Bo-Keys ably uphold the Memphis sound’s tradition of energetic vocals and lyrical content that is gritty, sensual and eloquent. Where else will you hear a line like “If I had a nickel for every time we’ve been apart/I’d be a rich man with a broken heart”? That’s from “Weak Spot,” a gem of a song that manages combine the grit of Memphis soul with some deep, hard-hitting funk.
These days, bands like the Bo-Keys have to talk about how they’ve repackaged the classic sound in a new way. I guess Bomar and his band mates are worried about being dismissed as derivative. I say so what! The Bo-Keys are a throw back to a time when fans took it for granted that bands played with skill and refinement and soulful singers belted out tunes where fans could hear every word and lyrics described real situations and emotions. That’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of; that’s something I’d like to get back to that more often. Highly Recommended
By Howard Dukes