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A Celebration of the Rich Musical History of Memphis

February 12th, 2015

Take Me to the River – Brooklyn Bowl – February 11, 2015

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Last night Brooklyn Bowl hosted a celebration of the rich musical history of Memphis, Tenn., in conjunction with Take Me to the River, a new documentary that traces the roots of the incredible blues, soul and R&B that originated in the city and shows how new generations of artists are carrying on and reinventing this musical legacy. That legacy was on display last night, beginning with the Hi Rhythm Section—musicians who once backed Al Green among many others—performing as the house band for the night.

With expert style, the Hi Rythym Section treated the crowd to a wide range of Memphis music history, as a rotating cast of multigenerational performers took the stage. Otis Clay, who was celebrating his 73rd birthday, performed a soulful rendition of “Precious Precious,” while later Bobby Rush, in a crisp white suit, looking (and sounding) great at 81, performed the Stax Records hit “Push and Pull” alongside rapper Frayser Boy (of “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” fame). Later, William Bell worked his magic on a cover of “Knock on Wood” before enlisting rapper Al Kapone to help perform “I Forgot to Be Your Lover,” a smooth new song featured in the film. In addition to the foundational and contemporary Memphis performers who came together last night, the show featured some very up-and-coming young musicians from the Stax Records Academy, a music school that mentors and trains the next generation of Memphis musicians.

By night’s end, there was really only one natural choice for the finale: So all of the performers crowded onto the stage to collaborate on a rendition of the Al Green version of “Take Me to the River,” joined by Jerry Harrison, of Talking Heads (whose popular cover of the song is yet another example of the impact and power of Memphis music). It was a joyful, freewheeling, inclusive sing-along—a nice distillation of the spirit of Memphis, now and then. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK