BOOKER T. & THE MG’S The Best Of Booker T. & The M.G.’s (Friday Music)
Friday Music have missed a trick or two here in reissuing the earliest incarnation of this title. Originally released in 1968, it’s a slender document, barely passing half an hour, and misses out on later hits such as “Soul Limbo” and “Time Is Tight”. Still, less music per side means potentially better sound quality, and there’s nothing wrong with that here. Some tracks are swaddled with tape hiss, suggesting the avoidance of sonically intrusive trickery to remove same, which is also a good thing. Full and warm, like all the Friday Music reissues co-mastered by Kevin Gray, it’s good listening.
Musically, though, without the benefit of vocalists of the calibre of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Carla Thomas, Albert King or Sam & Dave, all of whom Booker and the M.G.’s backed in their role as the Stax house band, it sounds like what it is: exemplary, tightly-drilled session musicians cutting loose on their own, in desperate need of something to distract the listener from the paucity of their material. Perhaps inevitably the sassy strut of “Green Onions” towers over everything else here like an R&B colossus. It’s not strong enough to survive multiple diluted remakes in the form of “Jellybread” and “Mo’ Onions”, though. More successful are covers of the Young Rascals’ “Groovin’” and George Gershwin’s “Summertime”, the latter bringing out the tune’s latent blues. Towards the end of the album the material becomes increasingly reliant on gimmicks to retain the listener’s interest, such as the false ending of “Tic-Tac-Toe” and a live recording of “Red Beans And Rice”.
Given the variable quality of this compilation it would hardly seem right to refer the listener to the original albums instead, but this still feels like an opportunity missed. An audiophile release of a career-spanning compilation, such as Rhino’s 1994 “Very Best Of”, still pocket-sized at 46 minutes and 16 tracks, might have produced a more recommendable result.