Flanked by the legendary Hi Records rhythm section, the Box Tops/Big Star boss found his groove on this rediscovered 1999 concert album
Solo careers don’t always follow a predictable trajectory.
In many cases they offer opportunity for an artist to let loose and pierce the parameters that they were confined to before. One could cite Neil Young as a prime example of an artist whose drive and determination was fully untethered when he left the Buffalo Springfield and fueled fans’ fascination by keeping them guessing at every turn.
The late Alex Chilton also falls into that category. His emergence into the mainstream came with the Box Tops, a band whose main claim to fame was a series of singles that made the pop charts while facing down the British Invasion — songs such as “The Letter,” “Cry Like a Baby,” “Soul Deep” and “Sweet Cream Ladies,” the latter an unlikely homage to ladies of the night. After disbanding the group, Chilton opted to take his melodic prowess and rock reverence several steps further with Big Star, a band that garnered considerable critical acclaim but never found the commercial rewards they so decidedly deserved.
Artist: Alex Chilton
Album: Boogie Shoes: Live on Beale Street
Label: Omnivore Recordings
★★★1/2 (3.5/5 stars)
Following Big Star’s abbreviated run — the group released only two albums with the long lost Third making a belated entry after their demise — Chilton went rogue, opting for a gritty post punk career that had him eschewing the compact melodies and ready, refined hooks that marked his earlier efforts. He opted instead for a return to the seminal rock and R&B spawned in Memphis, the city where he was raised and which spawned his initial efforts. His sound started leaning on a raw and raucous approach, one that not only dug deep into a more rootsy regiment but also inspired any number of musicians who also desired to get back to basics.
Boogie Shoes: Live on Beale Street, credited to Chilton, three horn players and the Hi Records rhythm section — the same group of musicians that famously backed Al Green, Otis Clay, Syl Johnson, Willie Mitchell, Ann Peebles, O.V. Wright, and so many other should soul stars of the ‘60s and ‘70s — digs up ten previously unreleased tracks recorded live on October 7, 1999 at the New Daisy Theatre in Memphis. It comes across as an impromptu performance, the result of a certain spontaneity and a setlist made up entirely of well-trod oldies — “Kansas City, “Lucille,” “Big Boss Man,” Maybelline,” and, somewhat surprisingly, KC and the Sunshine Band’s disco hit “Boogie Shoes.” Granted, there are no revelations here; Chilton and company play it straight, obviously enjoying the opportunity to simply share a stage without the need to exceed expectations. It’s a fun and somewhat frivolous encounter, one that offers opportunity to hear Chilton immerse himself in a few familiar songs devoid of posturing or pretense.
Ultimately, Boogie Shoes: Live on Beale Street will appeal mostly to completists who want to fill the cracks in their collection without expectation of coming across some unrealized masterpiece. Nevertheless, there’s something to be said for simply sifting through the back pages of an artist who preferred to eschew pretense and simply indulge his inclinations. As a result, these boogie shoes fit just fine.