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Pop - Released January 1, 1969 | Stax

While this is not nearly as essential as some other Stax wax, it has a loose, raffish appeal and never falls into the murk of a boring super-session chopsfest. These guys were simply havin' fun with some standard soul/R&B covers (e.g. "What'd I Say," "Baby What You Want Me To Do") and some wide-open originals, kickin' back with some serious riffin'. Cropper proffers his usual intense, simplistic soloing, while King swoops and dives in a stringbending fury. The added plus is the silky smooth near-falsetto of Pop Staples, whose vocal on "Tupelo" is suitably eerie... © John Dougan, Option 20_88 /TiVo
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R&B - Released August 9, 2011 | Savoy

Steve Cropper has said in numerous interviews that his main influence as a guitarist was Lowman Pauling, chief songwriter, arranger, and axeman of North Carolina's 5 Royales, a '50s-era group that wedded doo wop, jump blues, gospel, and jazz in an R&B style that scored them numerous hits throughout the 1950s. The 5 Royales also featured lead vocalist Johnny Tanner (and occasionally younger brother Eugene) supported by backing singers Otto Jeffries, Jimmy Moore, and Obadiah Carter. Cropper was approached by producer Jon Tiven (who he'd previously worked with on the first of his two collaborations with Felix Cavaliere) about collaborating on a tribute album to the 5 Royales, and jumped at the chance. Dedicated: A Salute to the 5 Royales, which represents the latest chapter in a late-career resurgence for Cropper, one of the most influential soul guitarists in history, combines the talents of a red hot studio band -- Cropper, bassist David Hood, keyboardist Spooner Oldham, percussionist Steve Ferrone, drummer Steve Jordan, and Neal Sugarman and Tiven on horns. In addition, Cropper and Tiven enlisted a stellar group of vocalists to perform 5 Royales standards: Lucinda Williams, Sharon Jones, Bettye LaVette, Delbert McClinton, Willie Jones, B.B. King, Shemekia Copeland, Buddy Miller, Dan Penn, Brian May, Steve Winwood, John Popper, and Dylan LeBlanc, fronting a great cast of backing singers. Despite the historic material and arrangements, Dedicated is a decidedly contemporary recording in production, saving it from the dubious fate of numerous other tribute albums that seek to re-create the actual vibe of original recordings. It begins with an excellent rendition of "Thirty Second Lover" featuring Winwood, but, fine as it is, it's a teaser for what's to come. LaVette and Willie Jones tear up "Don't Be Ashamed." On "Dedicated to the One I Love," Williams literally sends shivers up and down the spine as she uses her gauzy, slow, emotive voice to wrench every ounce of emotion from the verses -- with Penn adding another dimension to them on the bridge. Speaking of Penn, an excellent but reluctant lead singer, his reading of "Someone Made You for Me" is one of the most unexpectedly endearing performances on the set. McClinton's "Right Around the Corner" puts these rhythm & blues in the heart of honky tonk country. The back-to-back readings of "Messin' Up" by Jones and "Say It" by LaVette come close to stealing the show -- but Williams still holds on with the title track and her searingly naked "When I Get Like This" as the closer. Cropper also takes a couple of economical but stinging instrumental breaks on "Help Me Somebody" and "Think" that reveal the depth of Pauling's genius as well as his own. Given what a mixed bag tribute albums usually are, Dedicated is not only a surprise for its consistency, but a shining example of what they can -- and should -- be. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 1969 | Stax

After years of being a team player, Steve Cropper got to make a solo album for the label he helped put on the map, Stax Records (actually their Volt subsidiary). As you might figure, it turned out as an instrumental soul album, and a darn good one, too. It's a bona fide Telecaster-soaked dance workout, with Cropper turning in signature versions of "Land of a Thousand Dances," "99 1/2," (which features a particularly nasty period fuzz guitar), "Funky Broadway," "Boo-Ga-Loo Down Broadway," "In the Midnight Hour," and original instrumentals like "Crop Dustin'" and the closer "Rattlesnake." A solid and soulful little side project that holds up quite well years later. © Cub Koda /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 2010 | Stax

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A second outing from 1960s icons Steve Cropper of the MG's and Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals, following 2008’s fine, Stax-grooving Nudge It Up a Notch, Midnight Flyer builds on the same retro-soul template. Again the playing is impeccable, with Cropper delivering the precise, tonally perfect guitar leads he’s done his whole impressive career, while Cavaliere still has an expressively soulful voice and a wonderfully natural and joyous sense of phrasing, and track after track here starts like it’s going to burn the house down. That the house escapes with nothing more than mild smoke damage is the real surprise. The problem is the songwriting. Most of these tracks were written by either Cropper or Cavaliere, or both together (there are a couple of covers, most notably one of Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain”), and while everything sounds great, the songs shade into the generic. It’s telling that the most memorable and grooving track is the last one, “Do It Like This,” which is really an MG's-like instrumental with occasional vocal interjections. Even the version here of “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” while certainly competent and well-sung and -played, somehow doesn’t resonate like it should, lacking most of the desperate, haunting urgency of Peebles’ original. It’s frustrating, really, because both of these artists can still deliver the goods, and the assembled band has a wonderful, deep south Stax groove going for it. The songs just aren’t here. It’s as simple as that. © Steve Leggett /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 2010 | Stax

A second outing from 1960s icons Steve Cropper of the MG's and Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals, following 2008’s fine, Stax-grooving Nudge It Up a Notch, Midnight Flyer builds on the same retro-soul template. Again the playing is impeccable, with Cropper delivering the precise, tonally perfect guitar leads he’s done his whole impressive career, while Cavaliere still has an expressively soulful voice and a wonderfully natural and joyous sense of phrasing, and track after track here starts like it’s going to burn the house down. That the house escapes with nothing more than mild smoke damage is the real surprise. The problem is the songwriting. Most of these tracks were written by either Cropper or Cavaliere, or both together (there are a couple of covers, most notably one of Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain”), and while everything sounds great, the songs shade into the generic. It’s telling that the most memorable and grooving track is the last one, “Do It Like This,” which is really an MG's-like instrumental with occasional vocal interjections. Even the version here of “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” while certainly competent and well-sung and -played, somehow doesn’t resonate like it should, lacking most of the desperate, haunting urgency of Peebles’ original. It’s frustrating, really, because both of these artists can still deliver the goods, and the assembled band has a wonderful, deep south Stax groove going for it. The songs just aren’t here. It’s as simple as that. © Steve Leggett /TiVo
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Soul - To be released April 23, 2021 | Provogue Records

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Soul - Released June 6, 1981 | Geffen

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Soul - Released May 12, 1982 | Geffen

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Soul - Released June 6, 1981 | Geffen

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Soul - Released June 6, 1981 | Geffen

The man whose reputation is well established as a stellar guitar sideman has a big challenge stepping out front, especially considering the decision to take on lead vocal responsibilities. As a result, Playing My Thang is not so much about Steve Cropper's guitar playing as his singing, the obvious reason the early-'80s release hasn't exactly achieved classic status. Not that he is a bad singer, not by any means. The title track manages to merge a story told by the singing voice with lead guitar playing, along the lines of the classic "Guitar Man" song and others of its ilk. "Give 'Em What They Want" is a surprising, thought-provoking opener, although it also presents the first ample evidence that this is going to be a dull album. The cynicism of the lyrics, as well as a somewhat morose groove, make it seem like a self-confessional opus from a singer/songwriter is underway -- basically the truth, since Cropper wrote or co-wrote many of these titles. In that case, are the musings of a jaded session man really such an attractive basis for lyrical philosophy? Certainly whoever designed the album cover didn't think so -- Cropper's axe is given priority. "Fly" is a bit more of a Stevie Wonder thing; which, along with an aggravated and strange brass arrangement of "Let the Good Times Roll," are examples of material related to, but not exactly in, what is considered to be Cropper's forte. A Delbert McClinton cover, entitled "Sandy Beaches," complete with Jim Horn on flute, brings to mind the Herbie Mann Memphis Underground recordings as well as the prospect that a guitarist could take advantage of such a setting for some picking. Cropper's main business seems to be trying to pull off the vocal, complete with "I'll be loving you, loving you" chorus. Any chord Cropper played on any Booker T. & the MG's album is better than this entire album -- a realization that, although highly complimentery to the genius of Steve Cropper, is of little help when it comes to concieving just how he could have made a better solo album. © Eugene Chadbourne /TiVo
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Soul - Released May 12, 1982 | Geffen

Without really stretching himself, Cropper plays the series of soul and funk originals on this disc adequately, but rarely instilling the passion and inventiveness of his recordings with Booker T. & The MG's. The various "guest" vocalists also pale in comparison to the Stax greats, but they do an adequate enough job. The title cut is the only time when sparks fly, and arguably the only track where Cropper contributes something original and truly captivating. "Night After Night" indicates that Cropper was not washed up without significant players around him, but this release adds little to his impressive body of work. © Thomas Ward /TiVo
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Soul - Released May 12, 1982 | Geffen

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