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CD REVIEW: Steve Cropper's Dedicated: A Tribute to the Five Royales

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Guitarist Steve Cropper is best known for the sweet soul sound he brought to Stax records as lead guitarist for Booker T and the MG's, playing on classic Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Sam and Dave songs. But even though his sound has always been recognized as the definitive Memphis sound, Cropper has always said his main influence was a North Carolina band, the Five Royales out of Winston-Salem. The Royales were one of the first groups to cross over, bringing gospel music into R&B in the early '50s. Their music influenced James Brown, who covered their 1957 hit "Think" to get his first top-40 hit in 1960. The Royales' "Dedicated to The One I Love" was a hit for the girl group The Shirelles in '61 as well as the Mamas and Papas in '67. All but forgotten today, the group's contributions to rock have been resurrected by Cropper. With the help of a stellar cast, including Steve Winwood, Delbert McClinton and Lucinda Williams, Cropper resurrects the Royales music with a funky soul injection. Sharon Jones' performance on "Come On and Save Me" crackles with soul, and her blistering vocals on "Messin' Up" show why she's old school soul's current queen. B.B. King's guitar and vocals on his duet with Shemekia Copeland on "Baby Don't Do It" is his best work in years. Bettye Lavette defines the essence of R&B with her take on "Say It." Cropper's instrumentals, "Help Me Somebody" and "Think," reveal that Royales guitarist Lowman Pauling's playing was the influence for Cropper's signature guitar sound. It's powerful stuff, the Royales' originals masterfully re-imagined and masterfully executed. It's record of the year material and a contender for one of the best of all time.

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