Fire it Up
Original Music from a Master Craftsman That Simply Oozes Class and Dignity
Steve Cropper moved, with his family, from Willow Springs, Missouri to Memphis when he was just 7 years old, acquiring his first guitar at 14, and with Charlie Freeman formed The Royal Spades who eventually became The Mar-Keys.
When Chips Moman left Stax Records in 1964, Cropper became the company’s A&R man; plus he was a founding member of the iconic Stax “house band” Booker T. & the M.G.’s.
Now, well into his seventh decade as a recording artist he will be 80 years old later this year.
Also famous for his role in both Blues Brothers movies he has led an incredibly eclectic musical career as a hugely admired guitarist, creative producer and a legendary song-writer too.
Whilst he has been featured on innumerable albums over those years, there are not many that just have his name as the sole artist.
In fact Cropper calls Fire It Up his first proper solo album since 1969 and has called upon long-term collaborator Jon Tiven to twiddle the knobs as his co-producer
Never known as a singer he has the benefit of bringing in Roger C. Reale to add his gruff and funky voice to the album; leaving Steve to apply the rhythms and subtle grooves, as he, the absolute epitome of a team player, has done for many others these years.
The album kicks off with “Bush Hog Part 1” a very upbeat, funk-groove instrumental that really sets the tone, quickly followed by the title track, “Fire It Up” a bluesy foot-tapper introducing the energetic vocals of Roger Reale to the fray. Trademark laid back guitar licks open up “One Good Turn” with the maestro delivering a couple of additional mid-song solos that are the polar opposite of declamatory.
“I’m Not Having It” brings back that funky groove again, before “Out of Love” ups the tempo and has the catchy strap-line chorus of
“when push comes to shove, I’d rather be out of love”.
A tight horn section are featured on most tracks, indeed very prominent on “Far Away” once again with peachy, under-stated guitar solos ensuring we all know whose name is on the album cover.
The “Say You Don’t Know Me” opening bars remind me of Judy in Disguise as it chugs along with the guitar fills coming straight from a Stax sounding Sam & Dave type memory, with Mr. Reale telling you
“It’s a offer you can’t refuse, It’s a deal you can’t lose”.
Everyone should be up on the floor with “She’s So Fine”, with the full might of the brass section complimenting Steve’s recognisable repetitive six string under score.
“Two Wrongs” is mostly about Rogers lyrics informing you of the obvious “don’t make a right” whilst “Heartbreak Street” cranks up the band with the familiar storyline chorus of
“You’re leaving me on on Heartbreak Street, That’s where the lonely go to meet”.
Before the album ends with 2 more variations on the “Bush Hog” instrumental we have another brass laden soul number “The Go-Getter is Gone”, which follows the theme and tone of the album with Croppers’ clean and crisp picking refreshingly continuing in the middle of the mix.
Listening to the album 7 or 8 times now I’ve struggled to come up with an absolute favourite track, that is apart from the ear-worm groove of the 3 Bush Hog instrumentals. However, this is not a negative thing, far from it as what we have here is a really solid Rhythm & Blues / Soul album, which could easily come from the 1970’s but has a much more contemporary and 21st. Century vibe to it.
In a world full of gregarious show-offs and axe-wielding extroverts all trying to make your speakers explode, it’s just plain wonderful that there are still humble and respectful musicians plying their trade.
Steve Cropper is and always has been a real creative, genuine southern gentleman, but we should all marvel that he continues to produce original music that oozes so much simpatico and dignity.
Released on 23rd. April 2021
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