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Fire It Up

Steve Cropper

Soul - Released April 23, 2021 | Provogue Records

Hi-Res
One of the most gifted of all '60s sidemen, Steve Cropper (Stax house band Booker T. & the M.G.'s guitarist and Otis Redding's co-writer on "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay"), has a rocky history when it comes to solo records. Several attempts in the '80s on which he tried his hand at vocals were eminently forgettable though he scored a notable success with 2011's Dedicated, the all-star tribute to The 5 Royales that featured a raft of vocal stylists from Sharon Jones to Steve Winwood. Perhaps trying to dispel some of the ghosts from those previous misfires, the guitarist, now nearing 80, is calling Fire it Up "the first Steve Cropper album since 1969." Along with longtime friend and multi-instrumentalist Jon Tiven and bombastic vocalist Roger C. Reale, once of long lost '70s punk pop band Rue Morgue, Cropper has fashioned ten tracks from what he calls "old grooves" he's had in his head for years, many of which faintly recall his Stax glory days. A long list of guest drummers headed by Anton Fig and Simon Kirke add their stick skills but what's curiously lacking here are more trademark solos from Cropper himself. While everything he plays is worth hearing, he's never featured on any tracks outside the opening and closing instrumentals "Bush Hog, Pt. 1" and "Pt. 2" which for some reason are then combined into a final track titled just "Bush Hog." If there's a Stax-flavored gem here it's "One Good Turn," a midtempo number with Cropper's friend Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals on organ and Cropper's most realized solo in his signature single note style. Unlike the vocal wonders to be found on Dedicated, Fire It Up will ultimately be judged on Reale's shouted vocals which have more volume than warmth or nuance. Also, in an odd twist, the horns heard on many tracks—always a Stax trademark—are not credited and seem to all be keyboard effects rather than actual players. A mixed bag from an old pro. © Robert Baird/Qobuz