Arlen Roth and Jerry Jemmott
Super Soul Sessions
Okay, maybe the title is bit of borrowed interest from the classic Super Sessions album featuring Stephen Stills, Mike Bloomfield, and Al Kooper but it too boasts its share of gems and “super” talent. Guitarist Arlen Roth has long been hailed as a Master of the Telecaster and bassist Jerry Jemmott, who spends of his musical time these days with Little Village, Kid Anderson, and the Bay Area crew, came to New York for these sessions. Jemmott, aka “The Groovemaster” hearkens to the ‘60s and ‘70s as an integral band member of King Curtis and the Kingpins, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, and others. The co-leaders are joined by keyboardists Bruce Katz and Alex Salzman, rhythm guitarist Tom Gage, and drummer Chris Parker along with the five-piece unit, The Uptown Horns. Various vocalists including Joe Louis Walker and African Mukamiri appear on a program that contains mostly highly recognizable material and some of the biggest soul and pop hits of all-time, some of which these two artists originally contributed to. So, yes, it is a retro, nostalgic date that may well have you humming or singing along.
The opener may be the least recognized tune among the baker’s dozen, but it does a fine job of setting the mood for the album as Mukamiri sings “I’m Just a Mortal Man,” the title track of the first solo album of the late singer, Jerry Lawson of The Persuasions. Every tune here is dedicated to a particular artist and the instrumental “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone” has Roth in the lead with his melodic guitar lines buttressed by the punchy horns as the band nods to Aretha. Another Motown tribute goes to monster bassist James Jamerson in the instrumental, horn slathered, Roth led “Dancing in the Streets.” Joe Louis Walker brings his axe and his trademark vocals to B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone,” one where Jemmott’s famous bass line imbued the original recording. Walker and Roth trade some verses to take it out. Thankfully this crew breathes some new life into this oft covered tune.
Mukamiri with harmonies from Lexie Roth pay tribute to Jackie Wilson and Detroit’s Funk Brothers by taking the standout track “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” South African style with the glorious horn section providing the ‘lift” along with the two animated vocalists. Given that Roth and Jemmott are esteemed session musicians, they reciprocate respect for other famous sessions groups, the aforementioned Funk Brothers and the Swampers who were behind Aretha’s Muscle Shoals recordings in “Chain of Fools.” Walker and Lizzie Roth return for Sam Cooke’s “Shake,” which proves to also be feature for drummer Parker. Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away” is right in Mukamiri’s wheelhouse while Arlen Roth takes a rare lead vocal turn and a killer slide solo on The Stones “Down Home Girl,” written by Lieber and Stoller and dedicated to the late Charlie Watts and Brian Jones.
In several of these, Roth’s guitar lines replace those of the vocalist on the original song, “The Weight” being a classic example. This instrumental version nods to Aretha’s famous version of the tune which featured Duane Allman’s slide solo. Jemmott was also part of that session. Appropriately the dedication goes to the late members of The Band – Levon, Rick, and Richard. Country track “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues” may seem like an outlier but Roth’s telecaster and Mukamiri’s vocals leave it dripping with as much soul as any of the others. “Memphis Soul Stew” was one of the key tracks on one of this writer’s all-time favorite live albums, King Curtis Live at Fillmore West, and original Kingpin member Jemmott along with Ronee Martin narrate us through this extended version as King Curtis did, bringing back fond memories. In an unexpected touch, they close with “America the Beautiful,” with Roth’s slide and Katz’s piano and organ citing Ray Charles’ famous 1972 version. Naturally, there is no vocal here as none could possibly stand up to Brother Ray’s.
Two masters put a refreshing spin on these deeply familiar tunes. Keep this a “go to” for your road trips. It will keep you smiling.
- Jim Hynes
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