Steve Cropper & Felix Cavaliere
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2010, Volume 17, #8
Written by John Metzger
Tue August 3, 2010, 06:30 AM CDT
Outside the Baby Boomer community and a select group of hardcore music fans, neither Steve Cropper nor Felix Cavaliere enjoys much name-recognition. Nevertheless, each of these artists has contributed immensely to the history of pop music. For certain, they both earned their inductions to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — Cropper in 1992; Cavaliere in 1997 — for crafting astounding collections of well-known songs with Booker T. and the MG’s and The Rascals, respectively.
More than 40 years after conquering the pop charts, there have been very few changes in the ways that Cropper and Cavaliere approach their craft. The same R&B motifs that dominated their material in the 1960s continue to weigh heavily upon their output today. For Cropper and Cavaliere, time seems to have come to a standstill in 1975. Not surprisingly, then, much like their collaborative debut Nudge It Up a Notch, their latest endeavor Midnight Flyer revels in its retro-soul textures.
At first glance, Midnight Flyer is a frustratingly uneven affair. It undeniably pales in comparison to the albums that Cropper and Cavaliere made in their youth. It also fails to add anything new to their respective vocabularies. In truth, Midnight Flyer often sounds as if Cropper and Cavaliere are content simply with mining ideas from their peers, followers, and influences — as well as themselves — and then mashing them together to form the 12-track endeavor. This isn’t inherently a terrible strategy for them to pursue, but considering their legacies, it is difficult to fathom the slightness of their latest batch of material.
Given time, however, Midnight Flyer eventually gains focus and direction. In fact, after its first few tracks — most notably, You Give Me All I Need, Now, and When You’re With Me, all of which are so solidly generic that they become rather forgettable — the collection coalesces to become a sturdy, albeit imperfect survey of R&B’s golden moments: I Can’t Stand It, for example, could be mistaken for a lost track from the recording sessions for Eric Clapton’s Slowhand, while the title tune situates a guitar riff that Cropper had leant to Sam & Dave inside a funky groove that was plucked from Sly & the Family Stone. Elsewhere, Early Morning Riser is indebted to the Staple Singers — or, more appropriately, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section that often accompanied the group; Sexy Lady crosses the Isley Brothers with Steve Winwood. Likewise, a cover of Ann Peebles’ I Can’t Stand the Rain connects Winwood’s work with the Spencer Davis Group to his output with Traffic.
Ultimately, the thing that salvages Midnight Flyer, keeping it from falling by the wayside, is the sheer amount of fun that Cropper and Cavaliere appear to have had while making the affair. The exuberance that they brought to the project allows them to push aside the polished arrangements that initially threaten to stifle the proceedings. The turning point occurs during I Can’t Stand It, and for the rest of Midnight Flyer, Cropper and Cavaliere magnify each other’s strengths in ways that allow the music not just to sound, but also to feel, like all good R&B should: impassioned, steamy, seductive, and alive.
Of Further Interest...
Midnight Flyer is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2010 The Music Box