You know these guys, at least you know their work. Between them, Steve Cropper and Felix Cavaliere were complicit in the creation of dozens of hit records in the ’60s and early ’70s. Guitarist Cropper was a mainstay in Booker T. and the MGs, and wrote and played on countless Stax classics, backing the likes of Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett, and Sam & Dave. Felix Cavaliere rode the Hammond B-3 and was one of the lead vocalists of the Rascals, who defined blue-eyed soul with hits like “Groovin,” “People Got To Be Free,” and “Good Lovin’.”
In 2008, Cropper and Cavaliere got together and released their first collaboration, Nudge It Up a Notch, which met with some critical success. Now they’ve followed it up with their sophomore effort, Midnight Flyer (Stax Records). Listen, my respect for these two musicians knows no bounds, and I would be happy to report that the new album is a classic soul showdown between Memphis and East Coast r&b. Sadly, that’s not the case. While the new album does have a few bright spots, notably Cavaliere’s vocal duet with his daugher Aria on the burning “I Can’t Stand It,” and the delightfully retro “Early Morning Riser”, the rest is simply too pat, too safe.
Cropper and Cavaliere are all too keenly aware that their prime audience is baby boomers, and in trying their best to shape an album that will appeal to the post-war kids, they’ve lost most of the edge that they are known for. What’s worse is that songs like “Sexy Lady” are an out and out embarrassment redolent of the worst of the ’70s, and a no way to win cover of Ann Peebles soul classic “I Can’t Stand the Rain” is pointless. So there are highlights and lowlights, but the bulk of the album is just stuck defiantly in the middle of the road with songs like the opening track, “You Give Me All I Need,” and the not-as-funky-as-they’d-hoped-for “Move the House.”
It goes without saying that the musicianship here is impeccable. It’s always great to hear Cropper and Cavaliere playing. There are a few songs on Midnight Flyer that are worth downloading, but as a whole, it just falls short of something that these two musical giants should put their name on.