‘Legend’ is a word that is too easily applied these days: in music, in my opinion, you can’t be a legend after just one or two albums (and certainly not singles!). No, a legend for me is someone who has consistently, effectively and capably made a difference to the world they inhabit. It is not always the prominent or the most vocal and can quite often be the person(s) that provide the bedrock on which all else is built.
Let’s say someone has been active (and I do mean active) in music for over fifty years and has contributed to the success of, for example, Etta James, Art Garfunkel, John Lennon, Mavis Staples, Albert King, Rod Stewart, Otis Redding, Albert King, Booker T and The MGs and the Blues Brothers to name a few would qualify for the ‘legendary’ appellation. Add on to that the fact that he composed or co-composed over 3,00 songs including such gems as In The Midnight Hour and (Sitting On) The Dock Of The Bay, as well as a producer of renown and he deserves all the plaudits he gets.
Steve Cropper is that musician and, at the age of 79, he is proving it yet again with his first true solo album since 1982’s Night After Night (although the brilliant A Salute to The 5 Royales, that had a stellar guest list, from 2011 did carry his name…Fire It Up is now available on the Provogue label and shows that he certainly hasn’t lost the fire he applied to all of his previous work. The damnable pandemic did give him an opportunity; as Steve says, ”It’s made from old grooves, because during a lockdown, you work on stuff that’s been in your head for years.” It also features Roger C Reale on vocals, Jon Tiven provides keys Felix Cavaliere the vocals (possibly bass too as he was a formidable bassist in the band Rue Morgue) but the rest of the cast seems unavailable, so apologies to them, but rest assured you did a fine job.
On to the first of the thirteen tracks and the first of three instrumentals that play on similar themes; Bush Hog (a kind of strimmer) in all its forms should have lasted longer than the minute and a bit…it is of it’s time but is bloody good and the rhythm is inescapable and lovely too. The other two parts close the album and develop nicely on the opener with a delicious guitar tone and phrasing with a sustained bend that is genius. I tend to listen to them as one as the (almost) five minutes is a delight.
The title track is second in the CD running order and sets the scene for the remainder of the album…high quality, soulful R ’n’ B with blues seeping into the pores with Roger’s vocals adding to the Stax sound. It may not be blues blues but it is irresistible with a solid backing band and horns and harp adding depth. One Good Turn tends a bit more toward soul but still has a melodic complexity and depth that it has to be listened many times to truly appreciate its quality, especially the subtle solos from Steve.
I’m Not Havin It has an element of funk to proceedings with a brilliant bass line and a section of chorded guitar that is so damned clever. Out Of Love could be used to define r ’n’ b for me as the keys wash, the horns horn and the guitar illuminates it all.
Far Away has a very neat melody that the piano is constantly plying with and the (way, way to short) guitar excursions enthral. Say You Don’t Know Me is nicely bluesy, with a familiar rhythm and construct but remains original (think Judy In Disguise not in disguise!) She’s So Fine has another basic base but the descending chord play is genius. Two Wrongs has a country/soul/blues feel and only lacked a solo that seemed to be starting but never materialised.
Heartbreak Street has a great riff that beckons you with blues and blends in soul with great keys and a killer piece of bass playing.
The Go-Getter Is Gone is horn driven soul but maintains that simply brilliant rhythm guitar (and bass): another solo introduction that didn’t happen…but I am guitar centric and Steve is all about the whole band and I suppose I cannot argue with that.
It may not be the blues. It is a phenomenal musician supplying his trademark guitar craft enveloped in very high quality soulful R ’n’ B collection that will appeal right across the aforementioned genres.
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – A Wonderful album featuring a phenomenal musician supplying his trademark guitar craft enveloped in very high quality soulful R’n’ B collection that will appeal right across the aforementioned genres.
1. Bush Hog Part 1
2. Fire It Up
3. One Good Turn
4. I’m Not Havin’ It
5. Out of Love
6. Far Away
7. Say You Don’t Know Me
8. She’s So Fine
9. Two Wrongs
10. Heartbreak Street
11. The Go-Getter Is Gone
12. Bush Hog Part 2
13. Bush Hog
Steve Cropper – guitars
Roger C. Reale -lead vocals/words
Jon Tiven-bass guitar, saxophones, keyboards, background vocals and harmonica
Felix Cavaliere-keyboards on “One Good Turn” and “Out of Love”
Beth Hooker-harmony vocals on “Far Away”
Guest drummers: Darrell Peyton (“Fire It Up”), Anton Fig (“Far Away”)
Mickey Curry (“I’m Not Havin It”), Simon Kirke (“Say You Don’t Know Me” and “Two Wrongs”)
Omar Hakim (“She’s So Fine”)
Greg Morrow (“Heartbreak Street”)
Chester Thompson (“The Go-Getter Is Gone”)
Produced by Steve Cropper and Jon Tiven
Engineered by Eddie Gore, mixed by Eddie Gore & Steve Cropper
(iTunes supplied a track from the Soundtrack of a pretty good film called Still Crazy (Bill Nighy, Jimmy Nail and Billy Connelly starred) but I bought it for a Bernie Marsden track to keep my collection of his music complete and was pleasantly surprised by how good it is…the piece of music is Brian’s Theme by Steve Donnelly (who sadly passed away in 2020) who was a superb, if unheralded guitarist and plays some moody stuff here.)