Since the title of Booker T. Jones’s new disc, Potato Hole, evokes food, let me offer an alternate title: Three Great Tastes That Don’t Necessarily Taste Great Together. Those three being Booker’s Hammond organ, Neil Young’s lead guitar and the Drive-By Truckers’ feedback drenched backup. I love all three, but the combination turns out to be a bit of an acquired taste.
Booker T. Jones (along with guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn) was the cornerstone of Stax Records during the years it offered a harder-edged alternative to Motown. Up above, Booker T. plays his signature tune “Green Onions” with Cropper, Dunn and a host of young ladies on shimmy. While the bass lays down a firm pulse, Cropper’s guitar darts in and out of the smoky R&B organ sound.
The Drive-By Truckers, who back Booker T. on Potato Hole, are one of the best American rock bands now treading stages, but their Crazy Horse-influenced sound meshes a little too closely with the organ — with Neil Young, another feedback lover, doing his thing as well, Potato Hole sometimes sounds like it has three organ players instead of just one. It’s a listenable record, but these slow-simmering instrumentals are a far cry from Booker’s best Stax work — or, for that matter, Fork in the Road or Brighter Than Creation’s Dark.
If you’re a fan of any of the participants, though, you’ll want to check out Potato Hole if only for some of the more off-the-wall covers. The idea of Booker T. covering Andre 3000’s “Hey Ya” may sound surprising, but after all, he did the same thing with Simon & Garfunkel and The Young Rascals back in the day. One of the best tracks is “Get Behind the Mule” by Tom Waits, shown here in a concert perfomance from earlier this year in Australia: