Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Box Tops - The Ultimate Box Tops

The Box Tops 

The Ultimate Box Tops

Before vaulting into cult legend heroism with Big Star, a teenage Alex Chilton sang lead for this much more commercially successful Memphis R&B band, which cut several hit singles and albums in the late '60s.  The sound is pure Memphis, gospel-soul as Mid-South as a barbecue at a tent revival, deep swirling church-soaked organs and truncated guitar licks backdropping Chilton's shockingly gruff, soulbellied growl that sounds a good ten to twenty years older than the callow teenager he actually was at the time.  If you've heard "The Letter", you should know what to expect – most of the rest follows in a similar vein, some a bit poppier and brighter ("Neon Rainbow"), "Cry Like a Baby" adding a touch of Tommy James & the Shondells-esque fake bubblegum psychedelia.  Like a lot of teen-market aimed singles acts from the '60s, the material and performances can be a bit hit and miss – the non-hit singles were non-hits for a reason – but even the slighter material is enjoyable.  Caveat emptor for Chiltonphiles:  Alex only wrote two of the fifteen songs on this comp, the juvenilia of "Together" and the older-than-his-years "I Must Be the Devil" that sounds like a jazzy blues standard (he probably ripped it off from some guy named King or Neville).  The only bummer is the closer "Rock Me Baby" which builds up a sweet, heavy groove but doesn't deserve to drag on for 9:16.  That may be a good length for the funky carnal deed the song is clearly intended to get your baby in the mood for, but 6 minutes too long for an AM-oriented pop act whose biggest hit was a sweetly concise 1:58.  ***1/2

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