Online since August 2002

40 years on, still groovin'

Reviewed August 2008

Nudge It Up a Notch
Nudge It Up a Notch
By Steve Cropper & Felix Cavaliere

Stax / Fantasy / Concord: 2008

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The year was 1968, a year when there was little positive happening, except if you turned on your radio where the top hits included "People Got to Be Free" and "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay."

Forty years have passed, and Felix Cavaliere, the keyboardist/voacalist of the Rascals who cowrote and sang "People" and most of the other Rascals hits in the late '60s, has teamed with Steve Cropper, the co-writer with the immortal Otis Redding of not only "Dock of the Bay" but co-writer, guitarist and producer of dozens of great soul tunes, have teamed up for a new album, "Nudge It Up a Notch."

At first listen, it's clear that though these two may be old enough to collect Social Security, they haven't lost their musical fastball (and aren't in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on a fluke). Cavaliere's vocals sound like the best of those in his Rascals heyday. On the opener, "One of Those Days," he is backed up by some serious funk guitar riffing and a tasty solo by Cropper, strong background singers, and his own Hammond B3. The next tune is right out of the Rascals songbook and probably the best cut, "If It Wasn't for Loving You." This sounds like the long-lost follow up to "Groovin'."

Of the other vocals on the disc, the standouts are "Impossible," a mid-tempo tune with a Rascals feel and soaring Cavaliere vocal, and "To Make it Right," a funk exercise reminiscent of the old Stax cuts like "Mustang Sally." "Still Be Loving You" is a mish-mash that takes a hard funk verse and chorus, then throws in a time change for a light bridge that doesn't fit. The only real miss here is "Make the Time Go Faster," which forgets that this, despite the use of synthesizers and slick production, is an old-school project and has Cavaliere rapping the verses; the cut sounds like a cut from someone else's album – a rare gaffe in the otherwise flawless production job by Jon Tiven.

The disc contains four instrumentals that highlight the often unsung abilities of Cropper, whose role at Stax records included the guitar slot in Booker T and the MGs' "Green Onions" and many other session gems ("Soul Man" and many other Memphis soul hits). The best here is "Full Moon Tonight," which gives "The Colonel" a chance to stretch out on his Telecaster for four and half minutes of bluesy jamming over a heavy bass line. Cropper can still carve out a lick with the best of them, and does so again on "Cuttin' It Close." "Jamaica Delight" is a forgettable stab at ska that sounds out of place, but the album wraps with "Love Delight," which is a farewell that features interplay between Cavaliere's piano and Cropper's guitar in a musical conversation that concludes this disc nicely.

"Nudge It Up a Notch" does just that, and shows that old pros can be relied on to create memorable music, even several decades after their supposed prime.

Review by Frank Kocher, a longtime San Diego resident, musician, music collector and frequent contributor to The San Diego Troubadour.

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