Felix Cavaliere has been around for a long time. He began his musical career as a member of Joey Dee and The Starliters, which capitalized on the twist craze of the late 1950s. But it was as a member of the Young Rascals that Cavaliere found his greatest fame. The Rascals produced what became known as blue-eyed soul and had such hits as “Good Lovin,” “How Can I Be Sure,” “A Beautiful Morning,” “Groovin’,” and “People Got To Be Free.” The Rascals was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1997. Cavaliere would go on to produce Laura Nyro, tour with Ringo Starr, and have a credible career as a solo artist. These days, he tours with Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals.

Steve Cropper has been around for a long, long time as well. Cropper, as a member of Booker T. and The MG’s was responsible for creating such hits as “Green Onions” and “Soul Limbo.” He was also a member of the Stax label house band and, as such, wrote and played on literally hundreds of songs. His catalogue includes “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” by Otis Redding, “Soul Man” by Sam and Dave, “Knock On Wood” by Eddie Floyd, and “In The Midnight Hour” by Wilson Pickett, among numerous others. He gained more fame as a member of The Blues Brothers backing band. Today, Cropper continues to be in demand as a session guitarist and tours with The Blues Brothers Band and Booker T. & The M.G.’s. He is widely considered to be one of the best guitar players alive. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Nudge It Up A Notch brings Cropper and Cavaliere together, and the pair make a good match. There are no surprises here: Cropper brings his funky, crystal-clear guitar sound while Cavaliere adds in his soul-tinged vocals and competent keyboards.

Let me say up front that Cropper can get the clearest sound out of a guitar better than anyone alive this side of Eric Clapton. Yet despite that cripsness, he delivers a soulful and funky groove that has been synonymous with the Stax Memphis sound for over forty years.

The album begis with “One Of These Days.” It only takes about thirty seconds for Cropper and Cavaliere to settle into a smooth groove. Cropper still has the ability after forty years to back a vocalist without being intrusive, but he is also able to step forward on the breaks and lay down some great guitar work that links the parts of the song together. This song is the Memphis sound at its best and Cavaliere shows he can still provide a competent vocal.

“If It Wasn’t For Loving You” finds Cavaliere at his best. The backing singers fill in his vocals nicely and Cropper fills the blank spaces with a more rocking sound.

There are four instrumentals on the album. The best of the lot is the brilliant “Full Moon Tonight” with its simple foundation set up by bass and drum. This allows Cropper a lot of room for improvisation, yet he always returns to the melody. The “Soul Man” chords in the middle of the song are a creative pleasure. Technically and conceptually, this is Steve Cropper at his best. “Love Appetite” features some keyboard-guitar exchanges by Cropper and Cavaliere with subtle brass in the background. “Jamaica Delight” is a song that grew on me; the organ and guitar mimic each other strangely but ultimately in a creative way. Meanwhile, “Cuttin’ It Close” is a more rockish presentation against loud brass and is the least successful of the instrumentals.

There is only one song that really misses. Cavaliere tries out some rap on “Make The Time Go Faster,” but he can’t quite make this seem sincere.

Nudge It Up A Notch is an interesting and ultimately pleasurable release. The twelve songs are all originals and show that there is still a lot of creativity and virtuosity left in these two legendary artists. File this under funky rock ‘n’ roll at its best.

Rating: A-

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© 2008 David Bowling and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Stax, and is used for informational purposes only.